Good Housekeeping This fascinating, very well-written book settles it: The hottest, coolest new Seattle writer is Matt Ruff. Don't believe me? Think it's just local


Quick Reads

Matt Ruff and Jamie O'Neill.

Good Housekeeping This fascinating, very well-written book settles it: The hottest, coolest new Seattle writer is Matt Ruff. Don't believe me? Think it's just local pride talking? Would you believe ex-Seattleite Thomas fucking Pynchon, who hailed Ruff's previous novel, Sewer, Gas & Electric ("spectaculardizzyingly readable")? The first few pages of Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls (HarperCollins, $25.95) will convince you. They're not so much dizzying as clarifyingwhich is remarkable, since they're about multiple personality disorder (MPD), the confusing malady made famous by The Three Faces of Eve, Sybil, and When Rabbit Howls. The "house" in question is inside the mind of Ruff's MPD hero, Andrew Gage, a Seattle guy who works in the virtual-reality field (of course!). Shy Andrew contains multitudes: his authoritative mental "dad," Aaron; his bratty, horny anarchist kid brother (also Aaron); and several others, each with a room in the house. At any given time, only one personality can run the body (and Andrew "runs" the novel, too, as the first-person narrator). From time to time, a personality will seize control, wreak havoc, and leave Andrew to wake up blinking, wondering what happened, and responsible to deal with the consequences. Andrew hooks up with Penny, a co-worker who also has MPD, and he hopes to help her with her even more unruly mental house of cards. They wind up on a cross-country trip to find the secret of her past trauma, each struggling to keep their respective heads from turning into Animal House. It reminds me of the mental strife in Stephen King's Dreamcatcher, only Ruff is a writer of leaner prose. The MPD stuff is absorbingit wholly lacks the kind of revolting, sentimental therapy-speak that often infests such books. The tale is tactile, logical, and action-packedinside and outside Andrew's head. Let it get inside your head. I dare you. Tim Appelo Matt Ruff will read at Third Place Books (17171 Bothell Way N.E., 206-366-3333), 7 p.m. Tues., March 11. Brothers in Arms Jim Mack is a studious teenager, his older brother off in battle, who becomes enamored of another young man in 1915 Dublin. Handsome, defiant "Doyler" Doyle is a bright ex-classmate of Jim's whose social station has resigned him to shoveling waste on a dung cart. But author Jamie O'Neill carefully resists the simple pulp fantasy of forbidden romance between different classes. Set just before Ireland's Easter Uprising against the British, At Swim, Two Boys (Scribner, $15) triumphantly considers love as a natural force of historyit conveys how our tiniest actions affect the larger events of the world and vice versa. O'Neill's shimmering prose is initially daunting. His inventive handling of Irish colloquialisms can't help but remind anyone of the difficulties of reading Joyce, but you soon sink into the melody of it all until O'Neill's language feels as natural as your own. The book opens with an astonishingly textured account of a morning spent with Jim's father, a Dickensian blowhard and ersatz gentleman. Encountering Doyler's father, a newsstand man who was an old military comrade, Mr. Mack finds himself stirred by old Doyle's mocking presence and the memory of "boys together and bugles together and bayonets in the ranks." As articulated in O'Neill's shifting blend of third-person narrative and interior monologue, Mr. Mack begins his walk home carrying a package and the memory of a time when the two were pals: But there's no pals except you're equals. I learnt me that after I got my very first stripe. He looked back down the road at the dwindling man with his lonely stand of papers. A Dublin tram came by. In the clattering of its wheels and its sparkling trolley, the years dizzied a moment. Scarlet and blue swirled in the dust, till there he stood, flush before him, in the light of bright and other days, the bugler boy was pal of his heart. Parcel safe? Under me arm. Here, and throughout this remarkable novel, O'Neill somehow accomplishes a delicate comprehension of a people'sand a country'snostalgic past, tentative present, and shuddering future. Steve Wiecking Jamie O'Neill will read at Bailey/Coy Books (414 E. Broadway, 206-323-8842), 7 p.m. Wed., March 5.

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