In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot is a semi-stream-of-consciousness, hugely entertaining graphic novel supposedly penned by America's favorite man of mystery. While Bigfoot is actually channeled by writer and illustrator Graham Roumieu, his fuzzy take on film, hair care, pop culture, Jenny Craig, screenwriting and more modern oddities reveals with savage insight that perhaps the oddest creature of all is the human.
With a drawing style much like Ralph Steadman's (best known for his collaborations with Hunter Thompson) Roumieu/Bigfoot rants and dances across the pages. While we lesser mortals cannot deal with the annoyances of our day by either ripping off legs or bashing in heads, we can take a visceral associative pleasure in living the Hip Hop code of the great outdoors. Great fun.
Equally zany is Never Mind the Pollacks: A Rock and Roll Novel. All juiced up on cough syrup, Neal Pollack pulls the reader down memory lane as the one man who figured in almost every legendary music event for the past 50 years -- hanging with Elvis in Memphis, doing Greenwich Village with Bob Dylan, and stretching to cover the Bigfoot territory of the Pacific Northwest with Kurt Cobain, Neal Pollack, both author and fictional hero.
Part Spinal Tap, part Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer, Never Mind the Pollacks is over-the-top outrageousness on a subject that defies too much seriousness anyway. It's like being in the company of an amazing liar. The fibs are so whacked out and unbelievable that you enjoy the ride, wondering how the heck is he going to top the whopper he just told 10 minutes ago.
From outrageous humor to haunting melancholy, How to Breathe Under-water is a deeply affecting collection of short stories by a talented young writer, Julie Orringer. What will take your breath away is how absolutely unerring she is in capturing the cruelty children can inflict on their peers, or even themselves. In some ways it's like an updated Lord of the Flies. In other ways it's like a Sally Mann photograph. There's a menace that lurks behind every family façade; there's a tragedy in everyone's closet. Focusing on girls and young women, these tales are compact masterpieces that capture the fear and fury of growing up in a world where finding friends can be a contest of wills and deception.
Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for The Interpreter of Maladies. It was a surprising choice to many: a foreign-born first-time author, a short story collection and a work that spotlights the plight of expatriates far from their Indian home. Lahiri brings a cool, polished American voice to these settings, forcing conflict by juxtaposition between American and Indian religious elements. This is not Bollywood on a smaller set.
Lahiri's mastery of language and understanding of differing cultures allow her to create characters that shimmer. When their emotions are thwarted, the reader feels for them. When their minds struggle to interpret unfamiliar ground, the reader reaches out to lead them. Of course the reader can't change their plight. With actions that turn on a phrase or interpretation, and with settings so specific yet so universal, every denouement rings true.
In a small way, these read like Woody Allen social pieces. The men and women never seem to make each other happy, and the insertion of one heritage into the larger culture will always rub against the rough edge. The Interpreter of Maladies is a collection that grows deeper with re-reading, as will the reader's appreciation for Lahiri's skill as a storyteller and social commentator.
It's the perfect time of year to revisit EDWARD GOREY'S THE WILLOWDALE HANDCAR. You'll laugh at your own bewilderment of author/illustrator Gorey's characteristically comic macabre storytelling. Subtitled The Return of the Black Doll, this tiny book's characters' actions are key. It's what they don't do that keeps the reader flipping pages. Three friends (or siblings? or perfect strangers?) spot a handcar and embark on a journey to, uh, their untimely death (?) while passing mysterious goings-on -- a burning house, a young woman bound to a set of train tracks, a baby hanging from a tree -- with little to no response. It's hard to tell if you're laughing because it's funny or out of confusion. -- JESSICA TURNER Grade: C