Nani Power, CRAWLING AT NIGHTNani Power

The two protagonists of debut novelist Powers's compelling tale of urban despair are by turns hopeless, deluded and self-destructive, but their misguided stumblings are transformed by the charged prose and headlong pace of Power's skillful narrative. Ito is a Japanese sushi chef, recently arrived in New York City, haunted by his past. Mariane, an alcoholic waitress in her 30s who longs for the baby daughter she left behind in Virginia, exudes a frail, broken beauty that captivates Ito. There is something in her that reminds him of Xiu-Xiu, the prostitute he frequented in Japan while his wife, Tomoko, slowly wasted away from cancer, a loss soon compounded by another, violent death. These two virtual strangers scramble for salvation over the course of two nights in downtown, down-and-out Manhattan. When Mariane is fired, Ito leaps at the opportunity to be her savior: he vows he will help her reclaim her baby, her sobriety and her dignity. Their stunted blossom of intimacy is all awkward fits and starts, revelation and self-preservation—the delicate yet harsh experience of the emotionally wounded and fiercely, desperately lonely. Borrowing tricks from Virginia Woolf, Powers weaves her narrative through raw present and bittersweet flashbacks, making forays into the minds of supporting characters and walk-ons; she manages to blend literary, experimental and straightforward writing to brilliant, heartbreaking effect. Her starkly realistic characters and terse, lyrical prose herald her as an exciting new voice—and she should captivate a wide range of readers. (Apr.)

Forecast:The publisher is putting a good deal of enthusiasm into this release, with a first printing of 50,000 and a 16-city author tour. Some good reviews and word-of-mouth—and the author's own varied background, including a stint as a sushi chef—could go a long way toward building sales. The cover photo of a near-naked young woman won't hurt the book one bit.