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By Alibi Staff

SEPTEMBER 21, 1998: 


One Wave Standing
by William L. Fox (La Alameda, paper, $12)

It's little wonder that William Fox has managed to produce more than a dozen collections of poetry in his quarter-century career. With an attention to subject matter that's not so much a focus as a kind of fascination, he can take a single idea and give it several lives, instilling it with meanings it's never quite had before. Now you can see this knack at work in Fox's latest book, One Wave Standing. Here, waves are Fox's fetish of choice, employed time and again over the course of a dozen long poems, each time taking on a slightly different cast. The Dopplering draw of a retreating sound. The ripples of water in the ocean or sand in the desert. The green sine curves of his father's oscilloscope. All of them come into play to convey a sense of loss and, often, recovery, no matter what the case--from his personal musings on divorce to his meditations on nature. While a lesser writer might become too enamored with this extended metaphor, Fox writes with such brio that the imagery never grows tired. One can only bet that he has plenty more subtle, rhythmic verses yet to come. (BdeP)

Cuentos de Cuanto Hay
by J. Manuel Espinosa (UNM Press, paper, $15.95)

A beautiful girl has her eyes gouged out due to someone's jealousy; eventually, she gets revenge and marries a handsome prince. This is one of the stories, varied several times in Cuentos de Cuanto Hay, which folklorist J. Manuel Espinosa would classify as a "romantic" tale among his six categories: romantic, magic, religious, picaresque, animal and anecdotal. Originally published in Spanish in 1937, the tales of Cuentos de Cuanto Hay were oral yarns collected by Espinosa in the summer of 1931 as he traveled across northern New Mexico between Vaughn and Taos. With each, Espinosa includes the name, age and residence of the person who told the story to him as he carefully transcribed each word. This, along with Joe Hayes' English translations--which run adjacent to the original stories--retain the most important feature of these Spanish New Mexico tales: the oral tradition. In his insightful introduction, tracing the origins of these stories, Espinosa writes that even in 1931 it was primarily the older generations who held on to these folktales, and the tradition has dwindled even more since then. Thankfully, this collection holds on to the oral heritage of Spanish New Mexicans and is as delightful and gruesome a read as tales from the Brothers Grimm. (JE)


The Loop
by Nicholas Evans (Delacorte, cloth, $25.95)

Forget the book. The press pack that comes with it is amazing! A glossy, gold embossed folder stuffed with photos, interviews, publicity contacts and a 17-by-22-inch poster. The outline for the media campaign promises a "coast-to-coast publicity blitz" and a "massive World Wide Web promotion." Obviously, if it's from the same author who got $6.2 million for his first book, The Horse Whisperer--before it was even finished--then this one has got to be dynamite literature. Why, I'd be a fool if I went with my initial reaction and said this novel reads like a wolf-infested Peyton Place--especially since the press pack (Wow!) has a full page review already written for me: "An epic story of deadly passion and redemptive love set against the grandeur of the American West, The Loop is sure to capture the hearts and imaginations of readers worldwide." It goes on like that. Expect Redford, with his unlimited passion for pack beasts, to spare no expense in churning out another two-hour spool of sun-drenched cinematography. Not since Costner chose them as dancing partners have wolves been so venerated. Hey, that's the wild calling. You'd better answer. (SA)

Too Cool
by Duff Brenna (Doubleday, cloth, $22.95)

It wouldn't make sense to chalk up Too Cool's deficiency to inexperience, as this is Duff Brenna's third novel. That may, however, help in explaining the mentality behind this narrative: an effete vision of how to understand and cure the problems of America's wayward youth.

What Brenna lacks in plot structure certainly is not redeemed in characterization. The stereotypical troubled teen, Elbert Earl Evans (nicknamed Triple E) takes his typically rebellious girlfriend on a joyride in a stolen car. They become trapped in a Colorado blizzard, and Triple E sets out to get help. While trekking through vast fields of snow, he experiences various hallucinations and recalls the incidents that led him to his present fate. He remembers the teachers who feigned understanding, the boxing coach who taught him courage and persistence and the numerous individuals who opposed his conquests.

At times, Brenna's hackneyed chronology even led me to root for the demise of his characters. Maybe it was his abundance of aimless adjunct information and the too-easy implications of what was going to happen next. Overall, Too Cool isn't that cool. (VY)


Generation Ecstasy
by Simon Reynolds (Little Brown, cloth, $25)

Riding the crest of credibility that's currently bestowed upon "electronica" by rock critics and the record industry alike, Simon Reynolds' book chronicles the cultural history of the past 20 years of underground (yet popular) electronic music and rave culture. It is a pounding, encyclopedic dance through a vibrant and, until recently, largely ignored series of subcultures and musical migrations. Reynolds, a senior editor at Spin, is first and foremost a fan, a disenchanted rock critic who fell into the blissful euphoria of early '90s acid house culture. Nonetheless, his cultural histories are solid and well researched. He insightfully explores each subculture's drug of choice and its effects upon the user with the sound of the music and the larger cultural backdrop of the geographic area and the era.

Unfortunately, his fandom, while not hindering the extensivity, thoroughness and readability of his research, does hinder his critique right where things start getting doubly interesting. At that byzantine crossroads of the music and the drugs and the culture, it is painfully obvious that Reynolds would rather dance than wake up and wonder what it all means. Right where the subcultures start to question their own identities and environments and song structures--right where they find affiliations with the Italian Futurists, Dadaism or even good old '60s minimalism--Reynolds' dimwitted pulp fandom pops out and disses them as "parasitic" to rave culture.

Despite his lowbrow, just-party-dude tastes, though, a better book on the subject hasn't been written. Even in the larger context of music history and culture at large, a more well written, informative book is difficult to find. (SAn)

The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash and the Struggle for Gay Freedom
by Michael Bronski (St. Martin's, cloth, $24.95)

Bronski's argument goes something like this: The homophobia that buttresses our Family Values culture and influences public policy arises from "overt fear and covert desire." Mainstreamers not only deplore a sexuality more concerned with pleasure than with production but secretly find such an alternative hard to resist. That may be a bit reductive, but Bronski (author of Culture Clash) uses it as a stepping-off point for a wonderfully expansive tour of dominant/subculture relations. Along the way, he energetically criticizes the gay movement's drift toward assimilation, the sanctification of "privacy" and the usually disingenuous claim that gays are "just like" straights. But he's at his cleverest when explaining how the mainstream's ambivalence toward homosexuality plays itself out in the dream-life of American popular culture, from disco to Calvin Klein to the invention, in the '90s, of a white, middle-class, gay advertising demographic. It's a safe bet that Orrin Hatch will never read The Pleasure Principle, but it just might find its way into the hands of gay conservatives like Bruce Bawer and his bowtie-sporting followers, and that can't hurt. (JL)

Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life
by bell hooks (Henry Holt, cloth, $20)

Following her highly praised memoir of girlhood, bell hooks now takes us further along her path to maturity in a work of intense emotional depth. Her first book, Bone Black, was finished when she was only 18 and drew hooks into both the safety of academia and the pressure of the literary market. She has succeeded in each. Drawing again from the wellspring of childhood, and now from the added inspiration of a bittersweet and doomed 15-year-long relationship with another academic star, hooks draws the reader through difficult but inspiring scenes that have made their mark. From being one of the few black women at Stanford University, and back to her Kentucky upbringing, hooks shows the moments and indeed the struggle of becoming one who would write. During this period, vivid scenes recall her efforts to master her obvious gift for storytelling, including a pivotal early classroom exercise that helps her finally realize that sex and gender have little to do with final ability in writing. Her seductively eloquent prose style tightens the coherent pastiche of memory, backstory and memoir into an intense and memorable read. Essential for fans of memoirs and feminist writers. (BD)

Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion and Jazz
by Eric Hobsbawm (New Press, cloth, $27.50)

Eric Hobsbawm is often cited as the "best known living historian in the world." Most of us would be hard-pressed to name a single other historian--living or otherwise--but that doesn't make Hobsbawm's contributions to historical writing any less significant. Uncommon People is a scattered collection of essays on everything from Thomas Paine to the Mafia to jazz. Like in any collection, some pieces are more engaging than others. His piece on guerrilla war tactics, for example, discusses at length the history of, philosophies behind and conditions necessary for successful guerrilla warfare. A simple interview with a modern guerrilla who shoots people in the jungle would probably be 10 times as interesting. Hobsbawm's prose is sometimes overly erudite (granted, most of these works were originally published in highbrow journals like The London Review of Books), but he can still throw out zingers like, "The right of actors to fuck each other on stage is palpably a less important advance even of personal liberation than the right of Victorian girls to ride bicycles was." And the final chapter on jazz greats like Count Basie, Sidney Bechet and Duke Ellington is vital--the best work of its kind. (NM)

by Robert Coles and Nicholas Nixon (Bulfinch Press, cloth, $35)

Sixth-grader Christa Sanders-Fleming sits in a row of students who eagerly raise their hands; she is gazing pensively, leaning her chin in her palm. "I want people looking at these pictures to know that these aren't just ignorant little kids doing work. ... ," she says. "They have real lives and situations. ... So, look hard. Sometimes it shows on the outside." In School, a collaboration between Pulitzer Prize-winning child psychologist Robert Coles and photographer Nicholas Nixon, we are treated to stirring "inside" views of students from three very different Boston-area schools: Cambridge Elementary, Boston Latin School and the Perkins School for the Blind. Coles, a graduate of Boston Latin, contributes a stirring three-part essay on education, but what provides even more insight are the quotes like Christa's that accompany the goosebump-raising black-and-white photographs. Whether they are preoccupied by problems at home, challenged by a disability or crippled by high demands, in School we learn that one problem with education is that we often don't look close enough--beyond the school halls, rows of desks and flailing raised hands--to see instead the individuality of every child. (JE)

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