Sarah Bird, Author . Knopf $23 (384p) ISBN 978-0-375-41214-1

Stories nestle inside stories like a set of Russian dolls in Bird's (Virgin of the Rodeo) wonderful fifth novel. Set in the late 1960s, it is narrated by 18-year-old Bernie, the eldest of six children in the peripatetic Root family. After her freshman year in college, Bernie joins her nomadic kin at their current home, an Okinawan air force base. They have changed: her younger sister, Kit, is out of control and "now being played by Lolita"; her once glamorous mother, Moe, is overweight and depressed; her father, who was a heroic and swaggering fighter pilot, has become a distant, self-loathing "ground pounder." And Bernie can't stop thinking of Fumiko, the family's former maidservant, whom no one is allowed to mention. Before being sucked into the family's torpor, Bernie escapes by winning a dance contest that lands her in Tokyo as the stage partner of Bobby Moses, a third-rate borscht belt comedian. There she delves into the past to solve the mystery surrounding Fumiko's disappearance and her family's deterioration. Bernie—sharp and snarky, yet severely introverted—is a delightful heroine, and the large cast that swirls around her is equally endearing. Particularly fine are the wisecracking yet nurturing Moe and the oddly touching Bobby Moses, who's vulgar and mediocre, but insistent on professionalism. The dialogue is first-rate, and all the '60s brand-name dropping is amusing; the decade becomes fresh again when seen from the unusual perspective of a military family (especially this one) removed from mainland society. (June)

Forecast:Bird has David Sedaris's gift for mining scathing wit from family dysfunction. Only one of her earlier novels is still in print, but hopefully her move to Knopf (and a slew of enthusiastic blurbs from the likes of Rick Bass) will help her to win the large readership she deserves.

Reviewed on: 06/18/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 396 pages - 978-0-345-45277-1
Prebound-Sewn - 978-0-606-29851-3
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4498-8225-9
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