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Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By San Juanita Garza, Sarah Reinhold

JUNE 21, 1999: 

Pilots and Navigators
by Antony Dunn
(Oxford, paper, $12.95)

Pilots and Navigators is the first book of poems by British actor Antony Dunn. As such, one might expect an occasional naive observation or less than polished line. But Dunn's work is perfect -- concise and vivid -- with emotion kept tightly in check. And that's the problem. Though the poems are exceedingly well-crafted, they are also sometimes frighteningly devoid of sentiment.

To compensate for this emotional distance, Dunn exercises great craft. "Dublin" is a long poem, consisting of four three-quatrain parts. Each part begins where the last ends, thus creating both a thread throughout and a loop back to the beginning:

Stanza 1: "Only rain hazes the quivering air/where the moon combs Holyhead's horizon,/lifts pretty silhouettes to its bright eye/then drops them back into grainy darkness."

Stanza 12: "One harbour heaves towards us, one away,/stacked with their same freight-trucks; a short crossing,/waved-off, met, by cranes in two grey docks where/only rain hazes the quivering air."

Though rendering the poem in this form is very effective, the effect created is a state of being unaffected by this sojourn to Dublin. Despite receiving well-crafted images, replete with vivid detail, we end up right where we began, no different for the experience.

Even with Dunn's insistence on striking The Unaffected Stance, there are moments when bits of humanity shine through. One example is "Underground," which relates a suicide at a railway station. The speaker conveys both the event and his response to it. He holds a companion tightly against him, shielding her eyes, as they wrangle through the throng and away from the horror of death. The gesture is protective and loving. Dunn's choice of form for the poem? A sonnet.

The brilliance of this formal choice reveals Dunn's poetic skill. If he can accept his nature as a feeling creature -- without compromising his craftsmanship -- he'll no doubt become one of the greats.

The Unexpected Salami
by Laurie Gwen Shapiro
(Algonquin, paper, $10.95)

Think of that jaded uncle of yours who used to live in the Pacific Northwest 10 years ago. You know, the one who tells the same story over and over again about how he once did shots with Eddie Vedder. People love bragging about having known all about the next big thing before it hit the mainstream. I'm no different. With that in mind, The Unexpected Salami has been adapted into a film version and is supposedly due for release soon.

Rachel, a philosophy reading, spoiled, elitist New Yorker, after double majoring in television and physics, becomes disillusioned and flees to Australia. There she answers a newspaper ad looking for a "financially sound, artistically and musically attuned f. 22-30. Signed Phillip/Colin/Stuart." Phillip, Colin and Stuart turn out to be members of a struggling band called the Tall Poppies. Stuart is their heroin-addicted, kleptomaniac drummer.

Author Laurie Shapiro dabbles with Stuart's addiction in a way that is naive and lighthearted. Stuart is rumored to be wanted by the Australian mob and is subsequently shot when the Tall Poppies film their new video, "Gnome." Colin coaxes Rachel to leave the scene because her visa has expired. Soon after, her mother calls and insists that she come back to New York. From here the plot takes off: The suspicions surrounding Stuart's death, the Tall Poppies' sudden explosion of fame on American television, Rachel's longing to be around Colin and the possibility that Stuart rose from the dead in Buffalo, N.Y., are ingredients that combine into a tasty, exciting soup.

Shapiro was once a sex call screener for Dr. Ruth and a cue assistant for Peter Jennings. She uses her past experience, not to mention her extreme wit, to create characters you want to pull out of the novel and either kiss or flog. I really can't give it a higher recommendation than that.

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