cover image BABE IN PARADISE


Marisa Silver, . . Norton, $23.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-393-02003-8

Silver sets her oblique, atmospheric tales against the backdrop of a sprawling Los Angeles in this uneven but promising first short story collection. Many of the nine stories are equipped with painfully real characters and strikingly inventive writing, but too often an exciting premise leads to a dead end, and characters metamorphose in ways that go unexplored. In "Statues," for example, a recently married couple, struggling to feel at home in L.A., winds up at the home of two adult-film impresarios, where without much preamble (or motivation) the young wife asks them to "make a movie of her." After an anticlimactic filming scene, the story ends abruptly in the middle of the couple's tense ride home. Silver may be at her best when channeling the intensely tribal world of girls: through a character named Babe, featured in three of the stories, we see the fate that awaits a young woman in L.A. who is neither beautiful, happy nor rich—and more gratifyingly, we see how she manages to redeem herself. Several stories offer an alternately affectionate and frightening view of L.A.'s car culture. In "What I Saw from Where I Stood," one of the more powerful and taut entries, a carjacking spurs a tragic emotional response in a young woman who has recently miscarried a baby, while her husband looks on, helpless to save her. As a whole, the collection is a nod to the "other" great American metropolis: L.A.'s unique ability to be "everywhere and nowhere at the same time" is carefully, almost reverently documented. Sporadically illuminating if ultimately disappointing, Silver's tales aim to show how, with a little bravery, anyone can learn to love the City of Angels. 5-city author tour.(July)