VSBR

Readings

VSBR

Matthew McIntosh's Well (Grove, $23) will leave you quite unwell, for better or worse: Its company of miserable, craven, vile, and depraved Seattle-area residents -- from abused children to spree killers to haunted deathbedders to stalkers, adulterers, and, as Elvis Costello would sing, shadow-panic drunkards -- drift like noxious fumes and slip around like defective Colorform characters on a backdrop painted by Goya (or Goya's kid, or whoever) through this episodic, eerie quasi-novel. The 26-year-old will likely draw comparisons to Selby and Welsh, and for good reason: His plain, spare, occasionally shocking prose floats the old drugs-sex-violence-in-extremis literary love triangle as well as those pop pariahs' did in their early work. McIntosh, the author, himself, whoever he is, can nod off here and there into a lazy kind of patronizing, Sunday-in-suburbia philosophy (especially when he abandons his knack, which is mercilessly conveying our everyday despairs), but unlike the transgressions of more than a few of his characters, this is quickly forgiven when you recognize his intent, which is heroic in post-9/11 America ("Sometimes, he said, I could just about kill somebody"); his ambition, which is noble in its constant shifts in perspective and voice and mode and mood ("It is coming down for all of you, everywhere, all the time"); and his execution, which is nothing short of astonishing ("A tall man walked in. Dressed in a black bodysuit and a gold fireman's mask. He held a shiny gold flamethrower. He walked around my apartment, and, slowly, methodically, began to light everything on fire. ... I watched, petrified, as the man in black walked over to my fishtank and sprayed it with flame -- whoosh! -- the water boiled and my fish burst their seams.")... Other books off these shelves: Laura Kipnis' monogamy-denting Against Love: A Polemic (Pantheon, $24); Viking's 50th anniversary edition of Saul Bellow's great American The Adventures of Augie March ($29.95); Red Pepper editor and Guardian contributor Hilary Wainwright's stirring yet steady Reclaim the State: Adventures in Popular Democracy (Verso, $25); local father-daughter team Claude and Michele Stanush's excellent All Honest Men: The Story of J. Willis Newton and America's Most Successful Outlaw Gang (Permanent Press, $28); Farrar, Straus and Giroux's massive paperback campaign for Bernard Malamud (especially The Magic Barrel, $13); The Great Big Book of Tom Tomorrow: A Treasury of Cartoons (St. Martin's Griffin, $17.95, paper); the great John Ashberry's Chinese Whispers: Poems (FSG, $13, paper); Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's wonderful The Wolves in the Walls (HarperCollins, $16.99); 12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time: A Semi-Dysfunctional Family Circumnavigates the Globe by Mark Jacobson (Atlantic Monthly, $23); Helmut Newton's Autobiography (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $27.95); and, of course, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (Dutton, $24.95) by Al Franken, who'll be at Barnes & Noble Arboretum on Saturday, Sept. 13, 7pm.

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