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IN BRIEF

Fiction

July 28, 1996|MICHAEL HARRIS

SOLO SPINOUT by Ann Nietzke (Soho Press: $22, 189 pp.) Edgy characters. Characters on edge. Characters on the edge--of middle age, menopause, unemployment. Women who live in "Mexikorea," on the frayed eastern edge of Los Angeles' Westside, who have ex-husbands or boyfriends but are edging their way into lesbianism. These are the people Ann Nietzke writes about in this novella and three shorter stories. The title of one of the stories--"Solo Spinout"--uses traffic-report jargon as a metaphor for their lives. What's it like when you spin out of the lane that was supposed to take you where you were supposed to be going? You are uninjured--you think--but dizzy. Should you try to slip back into the flow or make a different sort of life for yourself on the shoulder of the road?

Nietzke, who won a PEN West award for her novel "Windowlight," is hardly a minimalist. Her prose is richly descriptive and even her shorter pieces have room for the outrageous secondary character, like homeless Capricia in "Solo Spinout." Still, there's a minimalist feel here. Women with four-letter names (Lili, Fran, Nola) live alone, largely in their own heads, as the edges of the world abrade them. The novella "No Man's Land" comes as a relief. The heroine's name is longer--Corinne. Her story is fuller--back in Illinois, her happy marriage was broken up by another woman, an icy tennis queen who seduced both Corinne and her husband, then split. The ending is tougher. It's a clear-eyed assessment of what the shoulder of the road has to offer.

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