This Week's Reads

H.T. Hamann, Bett Williams, and Toby Cecchini.


By H.T. Hamann (Vernacular Press, $30) I loved my big old college textbooks. I truly enjoyed spending money I didn't have on books I couldn't carry. Most people played video games in the cafeteria, but I preferred reading the dense paragraphs over and over in the library and highlighting the sentences and annotating the margins and going back later in order to figure it all out. That probably explains why I was so intent on learning something from this debut novel: At 568 pages, it's got the heft and texture of a scholarly tome. Hamann's thesis about the American girlhers is Eveline, a high-school senior in the Hamptons, circa 1979is that she is as fragile as she is tough, which reflects her environment. Hamann's methodology is to carefully study that environment in order to understand the organism. Her novel, like a field journal, is full of details like the way the sand and the beach grass differ from one side of the island to the other. As Eveline falls in and out of love and learns to understand who she is, she becomes a sharp-eyed sociologist and narrator. "When I was a kid, dope fiends were always trying to fly. Nobody tries to fly anymore," says Evie of a party full of sedate, seated junkies in the city. And, she adds, "The fact is, when you give cars to people with no responsibilities, no destinations, and no privacy, they will most likely use them for things other than driving," explaining how it was that her first love and his friend got really stoned and drove his car several miles home in reverse. Loosely adapted from the author's own journals, Anthropology makes a petri dish of the distinct social colonies located in New York City, New Jersey, and on the eastern tip of Long Island. As she travels through them, Evie is an adept note taker but not a theorist. She asks many questions of herself, but makes few conclusions. And that's appropriate; after all, how many us understand ourselves during the complicated process of growing up? Evie's coming-of-age, which continues through the '80s, is about as intricate a process as any chemical reaction. Hamann presents a wealth of fresh, absorbing, raw data in Girl, and it is the privilege and mission of the reader to properly assimilate it. By the close of this half-fanciful, half-academic, fully-realized novel, Hamann's collected evidence provided proof enough for me that she possesses a keen, questioning mind and a precise, empirical method. While the subject matter might lend itself to a slim, stereotypical chick-lit treatment, Girl weighs in with considerably more substance. It's a book worth studying. LAURA CASSIDY THE WRESTLING PARTY

By Bett Williams (Alyson, $12.95) Previously a novelist (Girl Walking Backwards), columnist (, and magazine writer (Out), Williams combines all three approaches in her new memoir. Party is mainly social commentaryfrom the narrowest of views. Williams sets herself apart from society with many qualifiers: lesbian, not PC, published writer, Santa Barbara childhood, lives in New Mexico, brokenhearted, dancer, Gap shopper, etc., etc., etc. Yet her point of entry to society and culture is purely routine. Williams seeks sex, has sex, is denied sex, describes sex, remembers sex, dreams of sex . . . it's all sex, all the time. And that's the shame of it. Sex overshadows what couldand shouldbe a vital, interesting dissection of life as one particular lesbian in these particular times. Williams' style is clear and concise; her characters and scenes are well developed. She's a fine writer with a unique viewpoint and a keen eye for details. So what do the readers get? Williams travels to Olympia, Wash., for Ladyfest and riffs on the obsession with youth, the unwritten dress codes, drinking, drugs, drag fest, the Republican Convention, the festival organizers, and, of course, her unsuccessful search for sex. She recounts an old crush, memories of working at a rape crisis center, thoughts of the young girlfriends she's had, disco-night extravaganzas, an oil-wrestling party, and finally her resolution of said crush. Ultimately, whatever her merits as a writer, Williams' preferred form of social intercourse is just that: intercourse. Her sexual adventures relegate the political, social, and intellectual trends of the moment to mere scenery, no matter how well she describes them. But if all you want is one woman's obsession with her sex life, Party is a fine read. JOANNE GARRETT COSMOPOLITAN: A BARTENDER'S LIFE

By Toby Cecchini (Broadway Books, $21.95) Since every chef down to the hot-dog-stand guy is cooking up memoirs these days, why not bartenders? The seldom- explored profession is made fascinating in this well-told account of life behind a Manhattan bar. But not just any bar. Author Cecchini is co-owner of Passerby in West Chelsea, one of those pretentious establishments that aren't advertised or listed in the phone book. Before that, his climb through the ranks started at Odeon, the chi-chi watering hole of choice in '80s TriBeCa. It's a good résumé to have, one rendered in a witty, vaguely erudite writing style. The book, which started as a diary on Slate, is a day-by-day account of the goings-on at Passerby, where Cecchini still tends bar. It also includes some historygeneral bartending lore as well as Cecchini's personal history as drinker, barkeep, and owner. Stories of his difficulties in opening Passerby, and the daily struggles of keeping it afloat, are balanced with amusing anecdotes about dumb customers, dumb customers, and dumb customers. A true New Yorker (though he was raised in Wisconsin), Cecchini rants about fruity drinks, bad tippers, and lazy bartenders. He's particularly harsh on the last group, who are want to steal from bar owners and mess up drinkssuch as the cosmopolitan, which Cecchini reinvented back at Odeon. As is often the case with professionals who write tomes about their work, one wondersgiven Cecchini's hectic, wee-hours schedulehow he found the time to write anything at all, let alone a book's worth of artful prose. And one might also think to leave bartenders bigger tips in the future; there's nothing easy about their watching customers get wasted, catering to their inebriation, and then finally cleaning up after them at the end of a long night. KATIE MILLBAUER

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