BEHIND THE WHEEL THE TITLE OF Andrew Vachss' The Getaway Man (Vintage/Black Lizard, $11) tells it all: Eddie is a driver, from the age he


Quick Reads

Andrew Vachss, Ruth Ozeki, Pico Ayer, and Michelle Lee.

BEHIND THE WHEEL THE TITLE OF Andrew Vachss' The Getaway Man (Vintage/Black Lizard, $11) tells it all: Eddie is a driver, from the age he first learns how to steal a car (any car) for a joy-drive, through the juvenile offender system and prison, and then through his membership in successive gangs. All the while, he takes great pride in assisting successful heists, but all his time in jail has left him stunted and one-dimensional. Just as Eddie swells with happiness when someone refers to him as a professional, he sees the other side of life. He questions how he would be treated if he were a "regular" man living on the right side of the law. Though an expert in his field, he yearns for normal human happiness, even love. Eddie comes into contact with an abused young teen girl. His partners at the time, Virgil and Tim, kill the guy responsible, and the gang moves on. Later, Eddie wonders what became of the girl. There's nothing preachy about these scenes, making their presence that much more powerful. Vachss' prose, pacing, and story line combine for a delicious twang of sweet, anticipatory tension. A fast, taut read, broken into hundreds of short-burst, lean, straightforward chapters, Getaway speeds to a surprise, but it's not really that surprising a twist. The author of over 30 crime novels (and also a part-time Portland resident), Vachss is prolific with a purpose: He's a lawyer who represents abused children and lobbies for their cause. He knows this pulpy homage to postwar dime novels will reach a bigger audience than his courtroom briefs. JOANNE GARRETT Andrew Vachss will read at Elliott Bay Books (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600), 7:30 p.m. Wed., March 12. NATURE GIRL NOBODY EXPECTS the Spanish Inquisition, goes the old Monty Python sketch, but it's fully expected in Charmaine Craig's The Good Men (Riverhead, $14). The starting point for this historical novel, now in paper, is the real-life deposition of a 14th-century Frenchwoman, Grazida Lizier, who was apparently one of the very few peoplelet alone womencapable of reading and writing in an age when literacy was tantamount to heresy. (If you can actually read the Bible, in Latin, you might not agree with the church's vise-grip interpretation of it.) Men's generally brisk and absorbing story begins a few generations before Grazida's time, with parish priest Pierre, who's no saint. The stunted, ugly rector of his village in the Pyrenees, he uses his clerical power to sexually exploit local womenwhen he's not busy fornicating with prostitutes. All the while, Pierre lusts after his brother's loverthen becomes the lover of that woman's granddaughter, Grazida (his own grandniece!), from whom he hides his familial connection. On top of all that sin, there are a bunch of "good men" tramping through town preaching their own Cathar gospel (which essentially denies the sacredness of the body and physical world). No wonder the Inquisitionlike the Taliban of its daycomes knocking on doors. Men is no bodice-ripper, and Craig really isn't concerned with sword-and-gown storytelling. Instead, she's getting at the whole dualistic fallacyas she sees itthat trips up the Western church and its dissenters alike. Her heroine effortlessly spans the supposed divide between mind and body. Rutting in the woods with Grazida, Pierre finds "not only the unguarded goodness of her soul, but the goodness of the world." Grazida's kinship with nature makes her a kind of proto-animist, in line with the Karen religious traditions of the author's part-Burmese family background (as she explains in the book's afterward, which really ought to be a forward). BRIAN MILLER Charmaine Craig, a former actress who played the recurring character Heather Haynes on Northern Exposure, will read at Third Place Books (17171 Bothell Way N.E., 206-366-3333), 7:30 p.m. Thurs., March 13. ROOTED IN THIS SCAMPISH, rather touching romp of a novel, Ruth Ozeki strikes a tone somewhere between Michael Pollan (whose article "Playing God in the Garden" inspired the tale), Jane Smiley, Amy Tan, and Carl Hiaasen (in his novelist mode). All Over Creation (Viking, $24.95) is the best book I've ever read about potatoes, and it's also good on what Saul Bellow called "potato love"the kind that thrives in close, unpretentious families. Set in the famous potato town of Liberty Falls, Idaho, the story details the collision of three families. First and foremost is that of our heroine, Yumi "Yummy" Fuller, the gorgeous daughter of farmers Lloyd and Momoko Fuller. In 1974, 14-year-old Yumi loses her virginity to her hunky hippie history teacher, Elliott. She uproots herself, flees Lloyd's wrath to Berkeley and Hawaii, where she has children named Phoenix, Ocean, and Poo by three of her many men. Then, a quarter century later, her best friend, Cass, e-mails her to return. Yumi's parents are ill, and the farm is in jeopardy. Also, Cass has some abandonment issues concerning Yumi's exit. And wouldn't you know it? Elliott is also back in town, now employing his slick sales skills on behalf of Cyanco, the agribiz purveyor of the Nu-Life potato, a Frankenfood. Elliott's nemeses are the Seeds of Resistance, a ragtag band of activists who roam the nation in their "Spudnik," sort of like the Merry Pranksters' bus Furthur, only it runs on leftover French-fry oil the Seeds scam from fast-food joints. Now, you wouldn't think that conservative old cuss Lloyd would care for the Seeds; but in fact, they both oppose Frankenfoods and take a stand for old-fashioned potato farming, like kindly pomme de terre-orists. Lloyd won't hear a word against them; informed that they reek of pot, he insists, "They smell like outdoors." If Lloyd can learn to love a bunch of anarcho-syndicalists, can he rewarm his potato love for Yumi? Will Yumi and Elliott reheat their romance? Can Cass and Yumi be fast friends again? And what's the true news about tuber technology? This book isn't deep, but it's good and quick. TIM APPELO Ruth Ozeki will read at Elliott Bay Books (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600), 7:30 p.m. Mon., March 17. INTO THE MYSTIC FORGIVE THIS Pico Iyer virgin for saying it, but Abandon (Knopf, $24) is just what I did to the renowned travel writer and essayist's most recent work of fiction, a mere 150 pages through. Readers may wish to take into account that Iyer has master's degrees from both Oxford and Stanford, writes frequently for Harper's and The New York Review of Books, and inhabits both California and Japan between bouts of thrillingly adventurous global travel, while this humble reviewer has only one piddly state-school B.A., a low-paying gig at an alt weekly, and a tiny apartment covered with dog hair. Still, it is not mere professional jealousy that earns Abandon only two thumbs sideways. There's no question Iyer has a gift for vivid evocation of exotic locales. His descriptions of placefrom the pungent, clamorous streets of old Damascus to the warm salt breezes and tattered palms of Santa Barbaraare so sensual and immediate, they nearly crawl off the page. But Abandon too frequently finds him with a tin-plated ear for dialogue and an emotionally anemic take on the inner workings of the human heart. Abandon's protagonist, John, is a dogged student of Sufism pursuing a trail of mystical poems around the world from his Southern California college post. At the same time, he's writing cryptic letters home to the love left behind in his native England. Romantic complications arrive in the form of a mysterious blond actress named Camilla, who is meant to be heartbreakingly fragile and alluring, but comes off as merely neurotic and childish. As for the Sufi texts, Iyer's lyrical ramblings hint at the peculiar, otherworldly magnetism that has drawn academics and amateur theologians for centuries. But for those who have only a casual acquaintance with the topic, the novel never quite delivers. Its small, beautifully crafted moments of insight fail to add up to a contiguous whole. LEAH GREENBLATT Pico Iyer will read at Elliott Bay Books (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600), 7:30 p.m. Sat., March 15. HEMLINES I KNOW A YOUNG man who wears only black clothing. Black shirt, black pants, black shoes, black everything. He's not goth. His personality isn't dark or brooding; in fact, he's among the happiest, most seemingly well-adjusted people I've met. He's also one of the smartest, if only because he's managed to avoid the vicious cycle of style described in Michelle Lee's Fashion Victim (Broadway Books, $24.95). With his uniform wardrobe, there's no worry about this season's trends or last season's no-nos. He needs only a modest collection of basic black garments (and a regular laundry routine), and he's good to go. It frees him to focus on things more important than fashion. Most of us are not so free or so smart. Some have only a small fashion bug, but others have got it bad. Lee, who has held editorial positions at Glamour and Mademoiselle, is a self-proclaimed F.V. She's not just talking about the big-haired Dallas trophy wife with the zebra-print stretch jeans and the blue-sequined cowboy hat. She's talking about any woman who runs up three-figure bills on trendy styles she'll only wear once or twiceand about any man who owns every style of chino the Gap's ever made. In Victim, Lee attempts to break down the psychology and relationships behind fashion and shopping. She investigates all the usual dark sides of fashion (sweatshops, eating disorders, etc.), but she also hits on some fresher points: the increasing speed of fashion cycles; the rise of McFashion chains like American Eagle Outfitters and H&M; the dirty business secrets of couture houses (including counterfeits and copycats); and even designer-approved licensing deals that enable lesser-known manufacturers to put designers' names on their garments. Well-written and intriguing, Victim does a lot of finger-pointing. But in the end, Lee places equal blame on the consumer. Frustrating as it can be, she and others remain willing F.V.s. KATIE MILLBAUER

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