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May 15, 2003|Carolyn Patricia Scott

Carried away on a story's arc

It is a blue afternoon in Westwood, the first in weeks, a lazy Sunday shimmering with heat. But despite the perfect weather, a sizable crowd has gathered in the UCLA Hammer Museum's lecture room, a windowless white space, to hear Charles Baxter read from his tales of suburban ennui.

The Minnesota-born, Michigan-based author, who came to prominence with his anthology of short stories, "Harmony of the World," has since published four books of stories and three novels, including "The Feast of Love," a National Book Award finalist.

On Sunday, Baxter read from his upcoming novel, "Saul and Patsy," the story of a Michigan couple suddenly subjected to unexpected persecution after a local teen commits suicide on their well-manicured lawn. Baxter's novel contains what is by now his trademark mix of whimsy and melancholia, a world where characters find themselves stumbling out of ordinary lives and into extraordinary ones.

The audience sat rapt, sipping coffee and laughing quietly, as the gray-bearded, soft-spoken author punctuated his narrative's comic moments with subtle dead-pan delivery. Baxter has the knack of bringing his characters quickly and vibrantly to life.

While the California sun streamed into the Hammer courtyard, in the lecture room it was suddenly a spring evening in Michigan, in a small town whose day-to-day foundations -- family ties, brotherly bonds and middle-class morality -- have been instantly and irrevocably shaken.

-- Jessica Hundley

Third time is the charm

Dennis Lehane II took readers down the "Mystic River" -- with his 2001 best-selling thriller about life, loss and friendship. The film version due out this year will be guided by Clint Eastwood directing Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne.

But it was "Shutter Island," (William Morrow, April 2003), Lehane wanted to discuss recently with the crowd at the packed Barnes & Noble on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade.

"Shutter's" features a murderess, a U.S. marshal and a wild storm in a historical thriller.

While the plot may be complex, the writing process Lehane says is "three drafts on the computer" and it's done.

Waiting in the stacks for author

Mariel Hemingway, where are you? A discussion of the actress' memoir, "Finding My Balance" (Simon and Schuster, January 2003), was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Beverly Hills Library last Monday. As the clock approached 8, even fans were beginning to grumble. With no Mariel in sight, the library's Michelle Merrill finally suggested the crowd "not waste your time."

Charles Lago, of the Authors on Tour based at the Current Affairs Bookstore in San Diego, the event's promoters, said later that the speaking engagement "was canceled and there was some miscommunication."

Still seeking Hemingway? Head to the Inland Empire. She's set to chat at Back to the Grind bookstore in Riverside, May 30.

-- Carolyn Patricia Scott

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