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Austin Chronicle Off the Bookshelf

JUNE 21, 1999: 

Nude in Tub: Stories of Quillifarkeag, Maine
by G.K. Wuori
Algonquin Books, $18.95 hard

At first appearance, Maine's natural beauty seems to be a refuge. Upon closer inspection, it's actually a hideout. It is a state (in both senses of the word) that reminds its inhabitants: "Nature is perfect and you're not." G.K. Wuori's collection of Maine stories, Nude in Tub, is a defective Polaroid camera of a book. It perfectly captures its Maine subjects, some Anglo and some Indian, then tints them with sickly, unnatural tones. It is 18 stories (divided into six sections) that seek to find magick in the torpid lives of their subjects. Wuori grafts meaning onto meaningless lives the way a child might try to stick a broken wing back onto a butterfly. The results are funny and bold and grim. Wuori writes with brilliant comic timing and he stages each story perfectly like a diorama in a museum of history. Nude in Tub exudes off-kilter charm in a backwoods world where nature's only two lighting options seem to be harsh glare and pitch dark. -- Mike Shea

The Fuck-Up
by Arthur Nersesian
Pocket Books/MTV, $12 paper

Nersesian's title or the MTV imprint on the cover might lead innocent readers to expect a vapid exercise in flashy and fragmented postmodern clichés, yet there is more significance in this darkly humorous book than in decades of music videos. Yes, the slacker in New York City is as lost as the poor souls who supposedly invented the lifestyle in Austin, but Nersesian extends the meaning of slacking until it becomes an absurdist's metaphor for the stranger caught in the inferno of the 1980s (and beyond). Nersesian's nameless anti-hero's misadventures drag him through the bowels of Greenwich Village: He loses his job as an usher when he asks for a raise, then pretends to be gay to secure a porno theatre management position about which he overhears in the subway. As he surfs from couch to couch, and from girlfriend to the depth of depression, we begin to realize why it might be difficult to sustain happiness at the end of the 20th century -- unless of course we have Nersesian's sense of humor. -- Mason West

Jacob's Hands: A Fable
by Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood
St. Martin's, $14.95 hard

Jacob's hands have the power to heal. But they can only heal the body. His gift reveals itself as an ability to draw out a desire to live and be healthy within the sick. Over those he heals he murmurs, quoting from the Bible, "Take up thy bed and walk." This screenplay, discovered in 1997 within a sealed trunk in Huxley's attic by none other than the actress Sharon Stone, was actually written in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood while the two Englishmen were living in Hollywood in the late 1930s. It is in every way pastoral, hearkening back to themes Gide, Balzac, and Rousseau never resolved in centuries prior. After being taken advantage of by greedy L.A. frauds, Jacob gives up healing people for good and decides to only heal animals and small children. He has symbolically returned full-circle to a simple, good life of hard work in the desert to spend the rest of his life. -- Lindsey Simon

On the Loose: Big-City Days and Nights of Three Single Women
by Melissa Roth
William Morrow & Company, $23 hard

In On the Loose, journalist Melissa Roth tracks 13 months in the revolving-door sex lives of Jen, Anna, and Casey -- youngish single women, living in major metropolitan areas, with dream jobs in what most people consider glamorous industries. Roth's breezy style brings HBO's delicious Sex and the City to mind, and there's an amusing (if clichéd) Austin connection -- one of the women strikes up a relationship with a man working in high tech here. He's no good, of course -- not one of the men in these women's lives is -- and is quickly dubbed the Bad Cowboy. Actually, the cast of characters becomes so unwieldy about halfway through the book that we can't remember who's a Bad Cowboy, Sexy Baker, or Soulful Candlestick Maker. And it would have been well for Roth to go under the surface a bit more and ask these women questions such as: Is a "career" what a gal has when she doesn't have a husband or children? What do these women do to meet their spiritual needs? And aren't they old enough to know not to mess with married men and other bullshitters? -- Roseana Auten

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