The Stranger vs. Bumbershoot

Here Come the Bad Boys

The Mind's Eye

The Surreal World

Booty Call

Intellectual Design

No Laughing Matter

Head Games

Slip of the Tongue in Cheek

The Stranger Vs. Bumbershoot

The Eternal Struggle

Comics Are Hot!

Rocket Man

Second Skin

Satan Spawn and Selma's Cootchie

Who, When, Where

Swivel Presents: The Indiscretions Road Show featuring Aimee Bender, Vendela Vida, Ali Davis, Ellen Forney, Lauren WeedmanMon Sept 5, Bagley Wright Theatre, 3–4:15 pm.

It's a truth that must be dealt with immediately—these women are cute. A few veer dangerously close to hot. This may be inappropriate to mention when describing a reading sponsored by Swivel, a humor magazine by women, but come on—haven't you ever, even once, at least toyed with the idea of reading a book simply because the author photo inspired a peaceful, easy feeling in your pants? And doesn't the idea of five attractive women telling funny stories of indiscretions seem more compelling than a similar reading by, say, Stephen King, William Vollmann, Jim Harrison, and two New Yorker writers who are not Malcolm Gladwell? Of course it does.

But there's enough talent here to choke a horse, even an imaginary horse that subsists on a diet composed solely of talent. Ali Davis has written some oh-my-God-funny pieces for McSweeney's, and Lauren Weedman performs on The Daily Show. Stranger contributor Ellen Forney's comics boast the strongest, most curvaceous linework of anyone in the cartooning world today, and are so witty that repeated readings bring fresh, hidden laughs to light.

The main event, though, in my mind, is the one-two punch of Vendela Vida and Aimee Bender. Vida's first novel, And Now You Can Go, is about how control of your life, in a burst of weirdness, can be taken from you, and how, by relinquishing control of your own inner weirdness, you can be made whole. This is no Oprah-atic victim-palooza though; the writing is great, and its complicated, distinctly feminine views on life extend far beyond the pages of the book—by way of the most obvious example, we learn characters' third-favorite songs and are left to imagine the first and second choices. And Now You Can Go is funny, sometimes in that truthful, nervous-making way, and other times because a bizarre sentence will begin on one end of the emotional spectrum and end, miraculously, on the opposing side, without connective tissue, only the helpless laughter of someone who has taken an unexpected, and very bizarre, trip. And the wisdom in the book is no anomalous hiccup: Vida is co-editor of The Believer, which is the smartest, finest monthly magazine in the business.

There is weirdness at play in Bender's magical, miniaturist stories as well. In her most recent collection, Willful Creatures, some (literally) pumpkinheaded parents try to love their little boy whose head is an iron, a man has his passions stripped from him at every turn by a gun-toting God, and a boy is born with keys instead of fingers. Each story is its own perfect shoebox diorama, a little world, complete in 20 pages or less. They read like mixes of folk tales and poems, but despite their tininess, the language makes them sturdy—try to break one of those green plastic army men and you'll get the idea. In my favorite, "End of the Line," a man, bored with his life, goes to a pet store and buys a little man. He puts his keep in a cage. At first he's a doting master, buying the little man a couch and books, but soon the novelty wears off. He begins to drug the little man and even makes the little man masturbate for his amusement. Finally, the big man is dwarfed by the enormity of his own sadness and self-loathing. Basically, Willful Creatures is a series of paper cuts applied directly to the reader's heart. But Bender also somehow writes characters who inspire swooning. I've had the personal pleasure of falling in love with at least three of Ms. Bender's fictional constructs.

It doesn't matter if you attend this reading simply because the phrase "cute author" is ordinarily as much an oxymoron as the president endorsing something called "intelligent design." Whatever your reasons, you're going to laugh, and you're going to have your head fucked with in deliciously brilliant ways.