by Ben Rice
(Knopf) $16

Pobby and Dingan, the debut novel by Ben Rice, is a slim book, easy to digest. As the jacket copy promises, Rice wastes no words, but while he has a talent for verbal simplicity, he attempts to take on too much--community, the bonds of family, the wondrous ability of belief to conquer reality. He sacrifices complexity for charm, crafting a lovely structure that contains nothing truly satisfying.

Rice falls into the unfortunate trap of believing that because a story is told by that wondrous, innocent creature with fresh eyes (the child), it can teach priceless life lessons. The imaginary friends of Kellyanne Williamson, Pobby and Dingan, enjoy a comfortable life in a small opal-mining town in Australia, until they mysteriously disappear and bad fortune descends upon the Williamson family. The entire book and the fate of the Williamson family rest on the shoulders of the narrator, Kellyanne's older brother Ashmol, who must "find" Pobby and Dingan.

The problem is that Rice never makes Ashmol entirely real to the reader. He is a brash child who thinks his sister is a "fruit loop," yet he manages somehow to summon the ability to believe in her imaginary friends. While Ashmol is undeniably likable, he is not a strong enough narrator to take the reader along for the ride. Both Ashmol and Rice's few words buckle under the weight of what Rice tries to address, proving that sometimes, when you trim the fat, you take away a little too much meat. ANGELA GARBES

by Kurt Caviezel
(Edition Patrick Frey) $45

My mom taught me to respect other people's privacy. But thanks to shows like Big Brother, Survivor, and The Real World, I can leave the dirty work to someone else while still feeding my nosy, need-to-know-everything urges. Because of these "Real TV" trends, voyeurism has now found its niche in almost every American home. Kurt Caviezel feeds this wildly growing fire with his photography book Red Light. From the window of his Zurich apartment, Caviezel photographs unknowing drivers and passengers partaking in their various 30-second activities to pass the time at a red light. In many of the images, the camera fights through the glare of the windshield, leaving mostly anonymous and half-faced people doing things that you have probably done while waiting, naively thinking no one is paying attention. People talk on their cell phones, sing with the radio, yawn, stretch, and groom themselves, thinking they are completely alone. Couples hold hands, kiss and fondle each other--and Caviezel is there to capture it all. Some might look at this book as unethical or even cruel. After all, the people in the TV shows volunteer themselves and are completely aware that their actions are being filmed for possible public display. And the participants in the shows usually do get some sort of compensation. A million dollars, a huge rent-free house to live in for a few months, or at least 15 minutes of very welcome fame have all been given in exchange for being a lab rat for a few weeks. The people in this book get what? Probably taunts and jeers from friends and family, and a new nickname--possibly, "the blond girl looking down her shirt." Must we all voyeuristically be aware of others' voyeurism? In this day and age, the answer seems to be yes. MEGAN SELING


by Russell Hoban
(Summit Books, 1980; Indiana University Press, 1996)

People who have read this novel are like a secret underground: When they find one another, they wave their hands and exchange swooning exclamations of joy only they will understand. This is one of those books that takes a worn genre motif (post-nuclear, remnants-of-civilization saga) and spins it into literary gold. The narrator, adolescent Riddley, is a kind of Road Warrior Holden Caulfield, struggling to survive a medieval lifestyle in England, 700 years after nuclear war, and tells his story in a brilliantly imagined, beautiful, barely comprehensible dialect you will dream in once you've entered this mind-blowing book. Everything is rendered credibly in Hoban's visionary fever: the shadowy governmental agencies that wield power through oracular Punch and Judy shows, the delightfully misinterpreted fragments of the destroyed world that carry down to the novel's present, the grief and trials of an orphan hero chosen for a task by some mystical power while trying to find his place in a cruel and hazardous time. How Hoban manages to pull this off with the humane realism of Twain or Ellison is astonishing. You will not find this book under Fantasy/SF. The novel gained some notice when it was published 20 years ago, but, until recently, was long out of print. The 1996 edition's glossary overexplains Hoban's intricate lexicon, whose appeal is greater when presented without apologies. Most any used bookstore carries at least one copy of this sadly neglected classic. Everybody I know who has read it puts it in their top-10 list. GRANT COGSWELL