cover image Beautyland


Marie-Helene Bertino. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-10928-8

The triumphant latest from Bertino (Parakeet) offers a wryly comic critique of social conventions from the perspective of a woman who also happens to be an alien from another planet. Adina, born in 1977 Philadelphia to an indefatigable and supportive “Earth mother,” is “activated” at age four by her extraterrestrial “superiors.” Her mission is ­to “report on the human experience” to her bosses on Planet Cricket Rice. They teach her to read and write in English before she starts school, and in one of her early communiques, she expresses a precocious insight into adult psychology after a store clerk is rude to her mother (“Human beings don’t like when other humans seem happy”). In high school, she’s ostracized from the popular clique, gets made fun of for having dark skin (her Earth family is Sicilian), and obsessively researches astronomer Carl Sagan (“Yes we know about him and his turtlenecks,” her superiors write back, unimpressed). In college, where she desperately misses her best friend Toni, she faxes while stoned (“Plants are the earth’s hair. Genius and ingenious mean the same thing!” To which her superiors reply, “These observations are unsurprising and mediocre. Are you ill?”). In the final section, Adina drops out of college and moves to New York City to be closer to Toni, who works in publishing, and whose support leads Adina to share her writing with a human audience. Bertino nimbly portrays her protagonist’s alienhood as both metaphor and reality. The results are divine. Agent: Claudia Ballard, WME. (Jan.)