cover image The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People

The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People

Susan Orlean. Random House (NY), $24.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-679-46298-9

One of the New Yorker's most distinctive stylists, Orlean (The Orchid Thief) has a knack for capturing ""something extraordinary in [the] ordinariness"" of her subjects. Most are completely unknown, or were before she wrote about them in these 20 essays and profiles. Sure, there's a piece on designer Bill Blass and another on figure skater Tanya Harding, but Orlean clearly prefers to write about lesser known people like Felipe Lopez, New York's first Dominican high school basketball phenom, or Kwabena Oppong, a New York taxicab driver who also happens to be the king of the Ashanti living in the United States. (He attends to his Ghanaian subjectsDsettling disputes, presiding over ceremoniesDaround his cab-driving schedule.) Disarming but disciplined, Orlean's style is unobtrusively first person, with deft leads: ""If I were a bitch, I'd be in love with Biff Truesdale,"" she writes, opening a story on a prize show dog. While some stories obviously evolve from her lifeDa profile of a smalltown news reporter who inevitably knows everyone, a hairdresser who is a ""perfect master of ceremonies""Din others, she ventures far afield: the cult-fave 1960s sister rock band, the Shaggs; teenage Hawaiian surfer girls with offhand fearlessness; a female Spanish matador. (Jan. 26) Forecast: Collections are rarely easy sells, but most of these pieces are gems, and Orleans has become such a staple of the New Yorker that her name together with the stylish jacket image of a woman in bullfighting garb may be a red cape for the magazine's many subscribers. 8-city author tour.