CRIME ALBUM STORIES, PARIS 1886-1902
by Eugenia Parry
(Scalo) $20

When stories are translated, or when writers use languages that are not their first, it is as though a filter has been put over the words. Eugenia Parry's Crime Album Stories uses this effect to an advantage. Twenty-five stories are built around photographs of bloody crime scenes and decapitated victims, and yet the picture of long-ago Paris that emerges is an almost romantic one: circuses, mushroom farmers, the World's Fair, gypsies, grisettes in quaint cafes, and a panther in the Paris zoo play parts in Crime Album Stories that emerge as more important than the roles of the morphine addict, the prostitute, or the abusive father. Parry's simple diction brings us closer to her characters--murderers and vic- tims both--whose almost- halting English suggests French idiom lost in translation.

The book starts out with the story of a morgue employee who sells the skin, breasts, fingers, and thighs of executed criminals as souvenirs to government officials. The horror abates as the book progresses, however; while the first few stories are just plain grisly, later stories become increasingly sad, funny, and beautiful.

The book's photographer, Alphonse Bertillon, says, "[C]ompared to the nothingness beyond our reach, the body of the lowest criminal is a colossus, a world. His form, marvelously intricate, always recognizable, links him with the infinite, from his ear's tiny landscape, to the shallowest furrows on his thumb." The delicate detail of Parry's characters mirrors the ideas of the man whose work ties her book together. LISA SIBBETT


WAS THIS MAN A GENIUS? TALKS WITH ANDY KAUFMAN

by Julie Hecht
(Random House) $23.95

If Andy Kaufman, the very weird and also beloved comedian, didn't exist independently in the world, Julie Hecht would have created him. Kaufman is so much like one of the strange and obsessed beings that inhabit Hecht's 1998 collection of short stories, Do the Windows Open?, that their conversations read like Hecht's fiction: one person asking questions, the other dodging them to harp on concerns of his own. What Kaufman seems most concerned with is whether or not he should be talking to Hecht at all about whether his funniness can be pinned down to any source; about whether he is, in fact, funny at all.

Hecht is timid but persistent, and gradually Kaufman, for all his evasiveness, comes to seem like a projection of her own anxieties, one that defies and inverts the linear logic that keeps the confusion of the world (for her) at bay. To Hecht, who is very talented at isolating ordinary strangeness, even the most normal people seem absurd--and Kaufman, who is given to asking his interviewer to do things like go alone into the bathroom and turn out the light and close the door ("Just trust me. It'll be worth it"), conversely seems no stranger than your average tourist in New York. When he finally begins to answer her questions, it is both a relief and a question mark, since everything he says should be taken with lots of salt. At one point he tells her, "You know what? I meant to make up a story to tell you, but I accidentally told you the truth." A conundrum to describe a conundrum. EMILY HALL


GIRL IN THE CURL: A CENTURY OF WOMEN IN SURFING

by Andrea Gabbard
(Seal Press) $29.95

The "surfer look" hit the Northwest in the mid-'80s. I remember wearing Op T-shirts in junior high, unaware what the "O" or the "P" stood for, except some hazy flavor of cool. In high school, a guy who went by the name of Cheese Willy became the only surfer in my Olympic Peninsula hometown. His Westport wipe-out stories reinforced the idea that surfing was a mythical sport reserved for a handful of chosen ones.

Many years later, I found myself out at Pacifica at Half Moon Bay, California. The sun dipped down into a foamy green sea as I paddled in, and I wondered why it took me so long to get out and surf. What if, back then, I had a copy of Girl in the Curl? I would have probably noticed that the writing lacked interest, and that the book design screams cocktail-nation gimmicky. But the photos! They alone should inspire any girl to take to the water. There's surf legend Lisa Anderson performing an aerial, and barrel-riding Rochelle Ballard, the spray from the wave almost blinding her. And holy shit! There's 70-year-old Eve Fletcher, who still surfs every day, saying, "I don't think you can be too old to be stoked."

As badass as these women are, know that they scrape to make a living off of pro surfing. Today, total prize money for the World Championship Tour is $2.1 million for men, and only $500,000 for women; and sponsors shy away from women who don't fit the thin, blond surfer stereotype. It's an old complaint, one that you hear all over. Even in that slow surfer drawl. NOVELLA CARPENTER

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