by Antoine De Baecque

and Serge Toubiana

Translated from the French by Catherine Temerson

(Knopf) $30

In the days before critics were understood primarily to be just idiots or assholes (or just idiotic assholes), they occupied a place of power and moral rectitude. In the Paris film scene that immediately presaged the New Wave of the late '50s and early '60s, post-screening conversations were transformed from idle chatter into weighty debate, and ultimately, to the makings of an artistic and philosophical manifesto. Hence, when the elfin François Truffaut, a burgeoning film obsessionist (the book tells us he made it a "point of honor" to see three films a day starting at age 14), found himself in trouble with the law, it was not to his indifferent parents that he turned for help, but to the grand pooh-bah of film critics, Andre Bazin. With the help of Bazin and others, young Truffaut was able to escape the literal and figurative prisons of a childhood so miserable and alienated that when he dramatized it in The 400 Blows (his first and greatest film), it galvanized the entire movement.

With the aid of perhaps more documentation than one might think necessary for an artist's bio (chapter 7 is 47 pages long and bears 251 footnotes), De Baecque and Toubiana portray the early days of the nouvelle vague in crisp, ungilded prose, which nonetheless captures the heady, near-mythic thrill of Truffaut striking out on his own with only books, movies, philosophy, and friends to light the way. Equally fastidious attention is paid, however, to the years that follow our François' glorious early days, as he rode his reputation as a great man of the cinema into great and terrible love affairs, a rift with Godard (whose shadow of cold genius always loomed over Truffaut's humanist concerns), an almost inevitable slide into minorness, and an early death.

For a filmmaker who equally defies and invites lionization, Truffaut is a thorough going-over. SEAN NELSON

INVISIBLE RADIOS by Kevin Sampsell

PINK MENACE by Ritah Parrish

(Future Tense,

P.O. Box 42416, Portland, OR 97202)

I first read Kevin Sampsell's work a few years ago, in the Good to Go anthology published by Seattle's own Zero Hour Press. Sampsell is the author of several books with titles like How to Lose Your Mind with the Lights On, Head, and Literary Snobs, some of which are in a genre he calls "post-punk pornography." His new book is Invisible Radios: Re-mixes, Statistics, Jokes, Etc. The opening piece is "My Comedy," a sad, funny poem about not being comfortable in your everyday life: "I don't know what to do with myself./All the time I wish for... is staring straight at me for three weeks and I feel exhausted." Some of the poems revise, the way a DJ samples music, the "greats." "Say This Wheelbarrow is Just Red" is a riff on two poems by William Carlos Williams. This book also has some really silly jokes, including an especially dumb one about Courtney Love. I like how Sampsell suggests that "serious" poetry, porn, jokes, daydreams, and statistics are equally valid forms of revelation and discourse.

Sampsell published this book himself at his Portland press, Future Tense Books, which is "dedicated to publishing work by people often thought of as weirdoes or outsiders."

One of those people is Ritah Parrish, a performance artist and member of the 1996 and '97 Portland Poetry Slam teams. Her new book is full of chilling, suggestive prose. A family keeps a girl in a box for years, a girl cuts an old man's talon-like toenails, a fundamentalist woman kidnaps a baby, and a wife kills, cuts up, and eats her husband. And that's just the first few stories. The plots and characters in Pink Menace are as creepy as the old X-Files, but written in such lean, sharp prose you have to admire them. REBECCA BROWN


by Stacey Richter

(Scribner) $22

Once, I worked as a secretarial temp. When I was bored, I went online by the name of "Pippi Lngstckng." On a date with a boy who went by the online name of Satan, I fell in love with his autistic little sister.

Another time, I was shipwrecked on an island of boyfriends. Since I was the only woman, I had the pick of the lot. I slept with all of them as an anthropological experiment, but in the end all I wanted was a little time to myself.

Oh, okay. These aren't stories of my life; these are stories from Stacey Richter's gasp-packed debut, My Date with Satan. Like the titular story, all tell tales of characters on the edge, as brittle as they are brutal. Richter, whose witty Tucson Weekly film reviews I am also a big fan of, has the ability to make every urban archetype new. Her writing is bare bones, and goes straight to the bloodstream. The story "Prom Night," for example, begins, "In the beginning was everything, and it was promised to us, but we didn't possess any of it yet.... Somewhere there was a prom, and we wanted to go there." In "Goal 666," a wannabe heavy metal star tries to maintain his bleakness in the face of a sprightly new band member. Exclamation points prickle and droop as the narrator finds horrifying evidence of a contagion: "Though Anders had mega-fierce tattoos and Stefan, the small but muscular drummer, had huge, furry sideburns creeping across his cheeks, and Max had the extremely satanic name of Max--there was something not right about these men. There was an air of innocence to them."

I haven't been as instantly addicted to a writer since first reading Lydia Davis. Richter may have sprung from the hillocks of red hell--surely she sold her soul to be this funny. TRACI VOGEL

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