Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

July 21, 1997: 

Few and Far Between
by John Martin Campbell (Museum of New Mexico Press, paper, $29.95)

UNM staffer Jack Campbell is already known around here as an arctic explorer and proficient field anthropologist. But he also turns out to be quite a capable photographer, as Campbell proves in his new book about life and culture in the wasteland. Few and Far Between features three short essays about the North American desert--its geology, its biology and its native peoples. But maybe the best part of the book is the litany of black-and-white photos that string in-between. Each well-composed photo is dedicated to a unique desert phenomenon (quicksand, petroglyphs) and is accompanied by a skillful blurb. ("Given a big enough playa," he says at one point, "you can coax some astonishing speeds from a Chevy pickup.") All told, Campbell's latest book is so well executed that it almost makes you wonder what this man can't do. (BdeP)

by Blake Nelson (Scribner, paper, $11)

Safe sex. Drugs. Poetry slams. Exile contains all the elements of a quintessentially '90s novel, authored by Blake Nelson, whose work has been featured on MTV and in trendy Details magazine. It reads somewhat like watching MTV--quick and seamless--but a lot more true to life. Protagonist Mark West is similar to many twentysomething men you might know: noncommittal, without much direction and having trouble letting go of adolescence. Except he's 31, and his poetry career is going downhill. The novel traces a year of his life, from Manhattan's spoken-word scene to an artist-in-residence position at a small Oregon college and back. The writing style is simple; sometimes this minimalism works, sometimes it falls flat. But Mark is a complex, believable character, and the subtle change that he realizes by the novel's end is realistic, if not tremendously profound. (JB)

by Junot Díaz (Riverhead, paper, $12)

This 10-story collection successfully portrays the soul and spirit of Latino men. Written by a native of the Dominican Republic whose attention to detail is without fault, the partially autobiographical stories excel in their purpose. The clarity Díaz uses to describe his people and his home leave a strong impression. From several different perspectives, Díaz describes Latinos adjusting to the American way of life and dreaming of all that is possible. The mixture of characters, which includes an unfaithful husband, a teenage drug dealer and a mother fighting to keep her family together, share common themes of poverty and disillusionment. The honesty and fluidity of these stories reveal the false hope that this country offers, the barrios that this country has made its dirty secret. (TLC)

by Cari Griffo (Molti Frutti, paper, $12)

What I want to know is, what the hell is an "ambient poet?" Since the arrival of Ripening by ambient poet Cari Griffo, my closest assumption would be that the title has something to do with the number of glamour shots stuffed into the press kit. Griffo is a performance poet--excuse me, I mean ambient poet--from Santa Fe, and Ripening, her first published work, is a collection of her most requested performance poems. Though the press kit photos are sappy, the solitary sickening aspect about Ripening is actually the book jacket, with all its forced fruit metaphors in every description of Griffo's work. But only a couple of her poems disappoint, falling lifeless on paper, dependent upon the performance. Still, no matter how glamorous or "ambient" Griffo is, her poetry as a whole is truly exquisite. (JE)

--Blake de Pastino, Julie Birnbaum, Tracy L. Cooley and Jessica English

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