June Publications

Determined to introduce a syncopated new lingo, short story writer Susan Compo trips over her tongue in Pretty Things, her klutzy, madcap first novel. Giselle Entwhistle, agent to the stars, appears "streaked in chenille" and sets out to make money for her clients—a motley group including former rock-and-roll hotshot Pandra, who may or may not be involved in a murder. Compo's contrived phrasings sometimes hit the mark, but more often they ricochet out of control. (Verse Chorus Press [4031 SE 73rd Ave., Portland, Ore. 97206], $16.95 paper 204p ISBN 1-891241-12-5; June 18) Drolly humorous and gently paced, The Sweep of the Second Hand, by first-timer Dean Monti, tracks the uneventful life of Malcolm Cicchio, manager of a sleepy foreign film theater. All is not well with Malcolm: he can't sleep at night, yellow jackets are nesting in his apartment and his ex-girlfriend Lena is marrying a doctor. A postpunk dirge singer named Darlene and a hot-line volunteer try to get him back on track, but they may end up hindering more than they help. Sweet, slow and slightly bizarre, this is an intriguing debut. (Academy Chicago, $23.95 327p ISBN 0-89733-490-6) When Leslie Kove leaves Squitchit, N.Y., for the wider world in 1970, she has no plans. She isn't interested in getting a college education; instead, she moves to the Big Apple and goes with the cultural flow in an innocent, bumbling kind of way, periodically trying to contact her elusive, troubled older sister, Susan. Though it lacks urgency, Plan Z by Betsy Robinson is a fetching, cleanly narrated coming-of-age tale. (Mid-List Press, $14 paper 210p ISBN 0-922811-48-2)

Jack Murnighan, former editor-in-chief of sex-friendly Web site Nerve.com, gathers short erotic excerpts from works by more than 70 authors—from the Marquis de Sade to Thomas Pynchon, Sappho to Jeanette Winterson, Ovid to J.G. Ballard. Culled from his popular weekly online column, The Naughty Bits (also Brit slang for genitalia) is billed as "the book that literary perverts have been waiting for." One of several recent Nerve.com tie-ins, it's a great idea—and one needn't be especially literary or perverted to enjoy it. Murnighan's thoroughly good-natured, erudite introductions add to the bawdy fun. (Three Rivers, $14 paper 224p ISBN 0-609-80660-2) Even Hannibal Lecter would be shocked by the fetishistic culinary and sexual exploits of the Thursday Club, as documented in Orlando Crispe's Flesh-Eater's Cookbook by David Madsen (Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf). "It is the destiny of the lesser to be absorbed by the greater," opines cannibal-chef Orlando, ringleader of the group of kinky, upper-crust weirdos who form the club. Recipes and gossipy anecdotes intermingle, as do bodily fluids (think sauces and marinades) and more conventional ingredients. Cerebral, campy and often hilarious, but definitely not for the squeamish. (Dedalus, $12.99 162p ISBN 1-873982-42-9) A woman spies her husband touching their maid and flings herself from a balcony in the first of 18 vignettes making up Giuseppe Antonio Borgese's Beautiful Women (trans. from the Italian by John Shepley). Elsewhere, a striking girl falls into a river and drowns; a man has a falling-out with a good friend over a woman. First published in the 1920s, the stories describe wives, mothers and lovers, often with a melancholy fervor echoed in such lush descriptions as "the full moon of May was like a sun dimmed by sleep, a white sun of dreams." (Northwestern Univ., $44.95 168p ISBN 0-8101-6044-7; paper $17.95 -6045-5)

Taking its title from a Bruce Springsteen song, Joe Westmoreland's Tramps Like Us is a bittersweet portrayal of a gay man's coming of age in the '70s and early '80s. After escaping his abusive father in Kansas City, protagonist Joe drifts from city to city in search of love and an identity he can live with. Hustling, drugs and music abound, as do myriad odd friends, lovers and tricks. Blurbed enthusiastically by Hilton Als and Sarah Schulman, it's endearing enough, but too ungainly to be the queer version of On the Road it aims to be. (Painted Leaf, $17.95 paper 341p ISBN 1-891305-58-1) First published in 1923 and based on events at an Oxford women's college, Vera Brittain's (Testament of Youth) debut, The Dark Tide, caused something of a scandal, mainly because it was considered a libelous roman à clef by many of those caricatured—including university dons and one of the author's best friends. It traces the tumultuous friendship between Daphne Lethbridge and Virginia Dennison, from their often prickly encounters at Oxford just after WWI to the allegiance they forge later on when Daphne's marriage falls apart. (Virago, $13 paper 260p ISBN 1-86049-769-1; June 1)

"I'm not quite five feet but if it hadn't been for that year-round swimming I'd have probably stayed a dwarf," writes the teenage surfer chick in the upcoming reissue of Gidget by Frederick Kohner. The kitschy, American pop culture classic was written in 1957, hit Hollywood in 1959 and returns for summer 2001, brimming with tales of guys, waves, hopes and dreams. Kohner based the novel on the life of his then 16-year-old daughter, Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, the charming young thing who penetrated what was previously a male-dominated sport with gusto. She writes a foreword for this version, which has a splashy cover that will appeal to teens and older fans alike. (Berkley, $13 paper 176p ISBN 0-425-17962-1)