Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Discoveries

March 11, 2007|Susan Salter Reynolds | susan.reynolds@latimes.com

Clown Girl

A Novel

Monica Drake

Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts: 336 pp., $15.95 paper

"WRITERS are nothing if not rivals," writes Chuck Palahniuk in his introduction to this funny novel, "but competition as good as Monica Drake is a blessing. 'Clown Girl' is more than a great book. 'Clown Girl' is its own reality." True, but Baloneytown isn't a place you'd want to live in, what with the desperation, the poverty, the hate crimes against clowns involving "meringue pies full of scrap iron."

Seeing her friends sell out, Nita takes a job as a clown. "Corporate parties can't hire strippers anymore, but they can hire clowns," her girlfriend Crack tells her. "Can't have a lady in a cake, but they can have heavily made-up chicks in Lycra paid to do anything."

For a girl who spends hours perfecting her balloon-tying skills, Nita has highly sophisticated and elegant ideas about the difference between art and commerce, creativity and prostitution. Still, a girl's got to make a living, especially if her boyfriend is an underemployed performance artist on whom she dotes ("You're my crime spree.... My bad habit, my finest act"). W.C. Fields and Charlie Chaplin offer advice. Nita survives with her integrity intact. "I had clothes and my dog and money," she says. "And then I had myself, my health, more or less, Kafka and da Vinci and all the big ideas."

*

The Day My Mother Left

A Novel

James Prosek

Simon & Schuster: 304 pp., $15.99

WHO can forget James Prosek's "Trout: An Illustrated History," published when he was 20? This novel for young people has all the innocence and beauty of the paintings in that book. Jeremy is 9 when his mother leaves the family for another man. His sister is 16 and halfway out the door with her own car and a boyfriend; Jeremy, left to comfort his depressed father, is outraged when he learns that his mother has taken his "Book of Birds," full of drawings he's been working on. But something odd happens when he picks up his pencils to draw again: The drawings are better. He goes fishing with his uncle. He barely tolerates his father's new girlfriend. Hawks, warblers and woodpeckers wing through his days, easing his misery at his mother's failure to get in touch with him. His dreams are full of her: "Why don't you see me?" he asks her in one. " 'No, I can't,' she said. And just as I was about to ask her why, she jumped into the lake and swam away like a mermaid." Prosek's artist's eye (a "cold, bluish moon," a young girl's skin like snow against a green couch) fills the white space left by his spare language. A few years pass. Jeremy, still hurt and angry, finally contacts his mother. She is weak, sad, vulnerable. And he begins to forgive her.

*

Touring the Sierra Nevada

Cheryl Angelina Koehler

University of Nevada Press:

432 pp., $24.95 paper

THIS extensive guide to the Sierras has the feel of old-fashioned adventure, of travel the way it once was. The unhurried pace, the absorbing of the history and mythology of a place -- the Sierras are rich in both. Cheryl Angelina Koehler offers excerpts from writer-naturalists like John Muir ("The Mountains of California") and William H. Brewer ("Up and Down California in 1860-1864") and clips from the Overland Monthly and the Sonora Herald. She heads southward along the 400-mile spine, preferring the higher elevations but without the pretension of peak-baggers. "Practical Matters" include advice on where to stay, what to worry about (or not -- man-eating bears are gone from California, for example). There are maps, photos, recipes (Basque sheepherder's bread, wild mushroom stew). Every so often, she waxes lyrical: "A glance down the long trail ahead and an August breeze that whispers of coming snow do little to dispel the urgent desire to linger in the moment, in the endless sweep of sky and rock, or beside a dwarf thicket of ancient willow where glacial melt trickles down through stair-step meadows."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|