by Jennifer Robin (Creative Arts Books Co.) $13.95
You'd expect a novel by a Portland performance artist/musician to be a little unusual, but Jennifer Robin's Bouzi sometimes goes a bit overboard in its oddity. This 99-page story reads like part fantasy, part secret diary, part romance novel.
Robin's main characters -- lovestruck slacker Jane Bouzi and vacuous poet-boy Jesse Costco -- aren't really developed so much as they're thrown into your brain, with the hope that you will figure them out as they speak their weird private-joke language. The two connect instantly and fall deeply in love, even though they're too cool to say the L-word. Instead, Robin waxes about the mysteries and crevices of their young lust-crush and, after building up steam, reaches some brilliant peaks. She paints her scenes in quirky language and offhand humor with lines like "Lying with him so real on the roof, seeing his skin glow in the dark like extraterrestrial pastry..." or better yet, "The cuticles are open, I am the word pour...."
If you read the whole thing at once you may feel like you're on acid, or as if some crazy person is telling you about their one true love (you know -- the kind of rant that makes you a bit uncomfortable yet blindsides you with honest emotion and gut feeling). It may seem raw and a little flawed, but most dazzling things are.
And of course, what would a true romance be without a tragic ending? Well, I don't want to spoil it for you. KEVIN SAMPSELL
TRASH CULTURE: POPULAR CULTURE AND THE GREAT TRADITION
by Richard Keller Simon (University of California Press) $40 cloth, $15.95"
Spot the Classic" is, of course, a popular parlor game, and Cal Poly professor Simon plays a staggeringly conventional hand of it, what with detecting within Star Trek a moonshiney Gulliver's Travels; in Dumb and Dumber a Carreyed forth Don Quixote; in Star Wars a sectarian Faerie Queene; in Days of Our Lives a languid Jacobean tragedy; and in Seinfeld a defanged Restoration comedy. Meanwhile, back in Studio A (for Adorno), Jerry Springer Pirandelloesquely stage-manages six women in search of their self-respect; Friends equals Much Ado about Nothing plus perfectly even features; and The Iliad and The Odyssey lurk within all those Vietfilms, except when Prince Hal, Hotspur, and Falstaff don camos for Platoon, and Marty Sheen channels a whimpering Marlow in Heart of Apocalypse Darkness Now. Unfortunately there's no mention of The Stranger Book Review Revue as Das Kapital meets The Story of O -- or is it The Tale of Tom Kitten?
So much for Trash Culture's connect-the-dots criticism. How refreshing, then, to encounter four chapters near book's end where mass cult apologetics give way to something darker and more bracing. Simon rejuvenates the hackneyed subject of shopping malls by rambling through five centuries of formal gardens. In Cosmopolitan, the ghost of Jane Austen advises young women on how to mine their sex appeal, while across town at Cosmo's eerie doppelgänger, Playboy, wan editors nervously airbrush The Book of the Courtier, a Renaissance guide to getting nookie. Best of all is the chapter on Madison Avenue's "adtopia," where insecure residents warily eye the robust souls of that other nowhere land, Thomas More's Utopia, across a vast and impassable gulf. KENT MILLER
LOST AND FOUND
MEANING A LIFE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
by Mary Oppen (Black Sparrow Press reprint) $12.50
Mary Oppen got herself kicked out of college in Corvallis, Oregon during her beginning semester for staying out all night on her first date with George Oppen, one of those poets they don't teach people in school. It was 1926, they were 18, and they decided to hitchhike from San Francisco to New York.
Mary describes how "the people we met, as various and as accidentally met as thumbing a ride could make them, became the clue to our finding roots; we gained confidence that this country was ours in a sense which we hadn't known under our parents' roofs. The sense was not only patriotic but a personal one, for as people generally accepted us, we felt as comfortable and at home in our country. I have never felt so at home in any other land." She recounts their impulse to a search for "an esthetic within which to live, and we were looking for it in our own American roots, in our own country."
This desire drove Mary and George Oppen back across the country by train, only to return to New York on a sailboat through the Great Lakes. They traveled around France on a cart pulled by their horse, Pom-Pon. They joined the Communist Party and organized radicals all over New York state. After the war, they lived in a mobile trailer home, moving across the country and up and down the West Coast until they settled in California. In 1950, they fled to Mexico where they lived in exile for 10 years. The geography of Mary Oppen's autobiography propels the specific, and sometimes unrelated, images of her life into a fluid story. This opinionated, optimistic, and eccentric woman records the constant physical and intellectual movement of her history, a 70-year- long conversation with her country. RACHEL KESSLER