Sandra Newman, Author . HarperCollins $24.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-051498-3

Transforming that most pedestrian of documents—the business report—Newman has fashioned a first novel that is anything but by-the-numbers. Chrysalis Moffat, a South American orphan, has grown into a psychologically unstable young woman living alone in the California mansion of her adopted parents, both dead. Her brother, Eddie, "five foot seven inches of sheer depravity," returns from a slacker trip around the world towing a fake Buddhist guru named Ralph, and together they open the Tibetan School of Miracles in the run-down mansion, selling enlightenment to spiritually destitute Californians. But this is just the first in a series of clever false fronts presented by this sprawling, globe-trotting novel, which hops from California to Colorado, Cairo to Kathmandu, exploring Chrysalis's and Eddie's messy lives and the source of their rampant dysfunctionality. Was their father in the CIA? What, exactly, was he doing in South America when he adopted Chrysalis? And what does all this have to do with the world of professional blackjack players? The novel is full of false turns, fake names and jaw-dropping coincidences, all slotted neatly together in Newman's blunt, wry prose. The periodic forays into report format give the narrative a stripped-down authority ("1. My mother died of complications following liposuction surgery. 1.1 A mild heart attack; pneumonia; septicemia. 1.2 Long-term alcoholism was the root cause") and giddy chapter headings ("Dave Something Scottish," "A Battle Between the Forces of Good and Evil"). This is a virtuoso performance, and if it sometimes reads like parody—wallowing in cancer, suicide, incest, mental illness—it more than proves Newman a writer worth watching. (June)

Forecast:Growing buzz—fueled by an excerpt in Harper's and rave British reviews—will likely be heightened by Newman's exotic backstory. An adopted child herself, she has worked as a secretary at a London firm of industrial spies and as a professional gambler's assistant. Six-city author tour.

Reviewed on: 06/16/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 389 pages - 978-0-06-051499-0
Open Ebook - 400 pages - 978-1-4464-2588-6
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