by Jessica Abel

Reading an Artbabe comic is like watching the television turn itself inside out. Jessica Abel's beautiful people, drawn in sharp, fluid cartoonery, inhabit a world whose plot lines at first seem drawn from sitcom. Friends gossip about other friends, wrangle over love interests, and wear cute clothes; it isn't until you finish the collection that you realize you got more into the heads of these people than you had ever expected to. There are five short stories in Mirror, Window, collected from Artbabe issues from August 1998 to April 1999. The first, "As I Live and Breathe," establishes Darcy and her crush Ben, who meet when they both end up temping for the same company. Abel presents a highly amusing rendering of their first date from each character's perspective--a sort of "he said, she said" thing--but what's really amazing is that the story breaks down in the middle for a dark reverie about Darcy's melancholy. Here, Abel's drawing style adjusts from semi-realism to a heartbreaking atmospheric expressionism with the ease of real feeling. TRACI VOGEL

by Brian Evenson
(Wordcraft of Oregon)

Evenson's latest collection of stories paints gruesome family portraits, senseless acts of violence, paranoia, disease, and utter annihilation of the human spirit. His landscapes are sparse, his characters primarily one-dimensional. In the first story, "The Polygamy of Language," the author sets his narrative tone: "Unfettered from theory, I would unravel language not from a distance, but from within." The characters all seem to unravel from within as well. Some physical or psychological disease infects them until their skin peels away, their limbs rot off, and there is nothing left but sickness.

It's a highly stylized approach to storytelling, which works best in "Internal," "Watson's Boy," and "By Halves." In each of these pieces, the main character is assigned a ridiculous task. What appears ludicrous initially eventually becomes an intricate spiritual maze of sorts. "The dead rat hangs from a hook on his chest, beneath the sheet that covers him. He will get out of bed. He will draw a picture of the rat. He will flush the rat down the toilet." Through physical and spiritual torture, each character comes to a fuller understanding of himself and his place in the world.

Formerly a professor at Brigham Young University, Evenson was relieved of his responsibilities primarily because his fiction was not deemed appropriate for tender Mormon minds. His work is akin to that of Dennis Cooper, and his repetitive style echoes his former teacher, Gordon Lish. This is not an easy read, but fans of transgressive fiction will find Contagion thought-provoking, splendidly gruesome, and carefully crafted. RITAH PARRISH


by Larry Clark
(Grove Press)

Larry Clark ruined a fine reputation with the film Kids--his own. After the shock value wore off and the simpleminded right wing calmed down, the film emerged as basically hack work: more fashion than form, more manipulative than felt. Moreover, Clark had already explored the same themes to far greater effect in two stunning, vanished books of photography, Tulsa and Teenage Lust. Both have long been out of print (except in Japan, where they cost upwards of $240) and have assumed a sort of grail-like status among collectors and photographers. Indeed, libraries nationwide (including Seattle's) have learned the hard way to keep the books locked up, available only under supervision. Now Grove Press has re-issued, in both handsome hardback and an elegant softcover, the greater of the two monographs, Tulsa. We should be somewhat reverent.

Tulsa is a watershed book. The images it collects--of young men and women shooting amphetamines and the aftermath thereof--are graphic, disturbing, and quite beautiful. First published in 1971, Tulsa set a tone for a kind of ground-level documentation of the failure of the American dream that has since been so widely imitated as to become cliché. The exasperating lack of judgment, the lacerating fatalism, and the purity of disregard that pervade Tulsa have been self-consciously imitated by everyone from Nan Goldin to Mary-Ellen Mark to Joel-Peter Witkin, yet none has ever matched Clark's emotional impact.

A significant part of that impact is due to the book's poetic sense of narrative, as accomplished by strong juxtapositions of images. A shot of a man gazing in mute incomprehension at a gun faces an image of the same man with an accidental hole blown through his leg; a picture of a topless girl being injected by her lover is followed by a romantically lit image of the same girl, pregnant--and shooting up. A few pages on, there is a photo of a baby in a coffin.

Tulsa verges on the manipulative and perhaps provides a hint of Clark's later heavy-handedness behind the movie camera, but then again, it is difficult to say how much of this reaction is simply hindsight. Certainly, at the time of its publication, there was no precedent for this kind of work; it retains the purity of its intent even now, 30 years later. JAMIE HOOK