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IN BRIEF

Fiction

September 01, 1996|Erika Taylor

LIVE GIRLS by Beth Nugent (Knopf: $22.95, 198 pp.) Catharine, a woman in her early 20s, is the sort of person one might expect to see managing an upscale retail outlet while attending grad school. Instead, she sells tickets for a sad little porn theater in an unnamed Eastern city. Catharine has no friends and few acquaintances. Although she is quite smart and, judging from other people's reactions to her, reasonably attractive, she seems to be almost hypnotized by her isolation.

Beth Nugent, the author of a previous collection of short stories, has written a sad, scary, completely fascinating novel. "Live Girls" is about what happens when a person's desperate need for companionship keeps smashing into her inability to connect with the world. Catharine's final answer to this problem is at once pathetic and brilliant. She sets out for Hollywood accompanied by a sick house cat and an anorexic drag queen, having stolen the former and manipulated the latter with ridiculous promises of stardom. It's clear they are never going to make it. Ultimately, however, the trip has nothing to do with Hollywood but concerns both Catharine and her companions as they decide, in radically different ways, to save themselves from their unlivable lives. "Live Girls" feels like one of those dreams in which you are chased and chased until you can't go on and have to either just lie down or turn to face whatever is behind you.

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