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February 15, 2004|Susan Salter Reynolds

Anything You Say

Can and Will Be

Used Against You

Stories

Laurie Lynn Drummond

HarperCollins: 250 pp., $23.95

Laurie Lynn Drummond is lucky. Her years as a uniformed police officer in Baton Rouge gave her many things to write about, many stories to tell. But this astonishing collection makes it clear that Drummond was a writer long before she was a police officer. The book's narrator, also an officer in Baton Rouge, blends terrifying, exhilarating, ominous experiences with memories of a suburban childhood full of fresh-baked bread and the smell of her mother's garden. The result is not unlike being slammed against a brick wall. Childhood, adulthood -- you choose.

Here is Drummond describing the sensory experience of death: "[T]he fibers [of her clothing] have absorbed something holy and horrible that no amount of washing can erase.... This smell, death, is a part of me, as pure and real and present as any memory of the child I once was."

And here she is in the moment when a suspect is pointing a gun at her, remembering the house in which she grew up: "It is the last heartbeat before death, it is the next heartbeat of life.... I am alone. Waiting. Waiting on the edge of my life, and it's as if the whole world holds its breath on the lip of the canyon of the universe. Anything is possible, and the child, the cop, the woman come together in this memory. And the feeling is power."

*

The Weight of It

A Story of Two Sisters

Amy Wilensky

Henry Holt and Co.: 208 pp., $23

"Identity has always been a particular obsession of mine," Amy Wilensky confesses, "how we get it, what can shake it, why it matters, what it means." It does seem, reading this memoir of two sisters, one fat and one thin, that Wilensky (the thin one, and the elder) began noticing details at a very young age. Details and emotions. How remarkable it must be to grow into an adult who can record these details and emotions and put them in the context of a life.

Amy and Alison were "Irish twins," the politically incorrect term for siblings little more than a year apart. In high school, Alison began a fight with weight that dominated her life. But it really began before that -- for as long as Amy can remember, she writes, the rest of the family was conscious of Alison's eating habits.

Sometime after college, Alison's weight peaked at 317 pounds, putting her in the ranks of the "morbidly obese" and making her a candidate for a gastric bypass operation. In 2000, at 5 feet 2 inches, Alison weighed 317. By 2003, Alison weighed 128. Amy records her sister's shape-shifting; watches and loves the person within the shape who does not change, is immutable; and sees herself in the mirror Alison holds for her.

*

Making Love

A Novel

Jean-Philippe Toussaint, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale

The New Press: 116 pp., $19.95

Oh, the drama of it all! The drama of love! In Jean-Philippe Toussaint's bestselling French novel of the heights of passion between a fashion designer and her lover (what does he do exactly?), no detail is too small for the lovers' painfully acute radar.

"[T]he screen showed only the static and snowy image of a message in English on a blue background accompanied by a constant and almost imperceptible electronic hiss. YOU HAVE A FAX. PLEASE CONTACT THE CENTRAL DESK. Her eyes covered by her silk sleep mask, Marie had noticed nothing of this interruption and continued to move in my arms in the bluish twilight of the room. But in spite of the searing intensity of my desire, I was destroyed by that incident.... " Who needs soap operas?

The neon lights of Tokyo, the charcoal-gray coat, the midnight fax, a vial of hydrochloric acid -- all are characters in this acute affair. Beware the bratty ring of narcissism! The snit at the airport when one is not picked up, the annoying hotel staff, the crude intrusions of everyday taxi drivers: Someone may be observing and writing about you.

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