Express Reviews 

Hot new books for your delectation.

The Dog Fighter
By Marc Bojanowski
William Morrow, $23.95

The titular dog fighting in this debut novel by a UC Berkeley grad is a good job if you're strong, poor, and willing to battle hounds to the rib-stomping death, armed only with a Freddy Krueger-style glove. The novel's unnamed narrator is all of the above. But the fight scenes, as frothy with blood and spittle as they may be, are only a gruesome side note in this manly man's coming-of-age tale set in 1940s Mexico. The novel wanders, plotwise, almost as much as its itinerant narrator does. After arriving in the hidden town of Canción, the young man becomes embroiled in a class-and-culture clash as rebel forces battle the local crime boss, who is intent on turning Canción into an American tourist haven. The narrator soon falls in love with the local crime boss' mistress, adding more testosteroney angst to the mix. Stream-of-consciousness weirdness dominates the text as the narrator crushes dogs with his giant ham-hands, reflects on God and homosexuality, and refuses to use apostrophes. Hes not so fond. Of complete sentences. Either. Though Bojanowski's agenda-heavy revisionist history doesn't always feel period-authentic, he has a gift for detail and a relentless dedication to his imaginative world. It's Hemingway for hipsters. Though he hits you over the head with the damn seriousness of his story, and the ending falls short of satisfying, Bojanowski's bloody menace and touching moments keep you reading. -- Nicole Ankowski

Diary of a Viagra Fiend
By Jayson Gallaway
Atria Books, $22

This journal of carnality, consumption, and condescension aroused laughter -- once. On page 241. Recounting his high times as a San Francisco bondage-club dancer, porn reviewer, crushed-Viagra inhaler, and blitzed subject of a 20/20 interview, Gallaway writes as if he's being paid per cultural reference and makes like a coked-up Ray Ratto, unnecessarily tossing SAT-prep words such as "pulchritudinous" and "erumpent" into the mix. Narcissistic recollections of all the legal and illegal drugs in which he has overindulged and all the hot, trashy women he has banged alternate with repeated, melodramatic attempts to stick it to The Man via pompous, expletive-heavy tirades. These grow wearisome rapidly, and are the literary equivalent of being trapped in a telephone booth with Jim Carrey. The most painful thing about this book -- and that's saying something -- is that, somewhere in there, this could have been a good story. What led an obviously clever, well-read man with an advanced degree to live like this? Why is Gallaway so willing to spill gallons of ink describing his penis in various states of engorgement, but so little explaining his mind? More introversion would also have been good, because Gallaway's dialogue reads like X-rated sitcom chatter. Hey, maybe if your organ was rapidly turning gangrenous from a misapplied cock ring, you too would have the presence of mind to tell your doctor, "[I will] denounce you before God and the entire world as a charlatan, a quack, and an unfeeling, inhumane bastard who sat around eating fondue and pork tartare with his fly-fishing buddies while one of his patients' cocks was turning into a retiree named Ordell before falling off." -- Joe Eskenazi

The Good Cripple
By Rodrigo Rey Rosa
Translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen
New Directions, $13.95

It's only 116 pages long, but the latest novella from preeminent Guatemalan author Rodrigo Rey Rosa is hefty stuff. Former kidnapping victim Juan Luis Luna, now a writer living in Morocco, chances upon one of his former captors, who has become a restaurant owner. Thoroughly unnerved by the meeting, Luna moves back to Guatemala, where he runs into another one. Not surprisingly, Luna still has some questions about the incident (during which one of his feet was amputated), especially since he'd believed all this time that the kidnappers had all died during a botched getaway. Unexpectedly presented with the chance to get even, Luna lives up to the book's title -- and in so doing reminds us of what they say about living well being the best ... well, you get the picture. Though Rey Rosa's writing is spare and powerful, the book's circular structure is unnecessarily confusing. Readers might find it wise to look back over Part I, which comes last chronologically. Note: Although the author, like the protagonist, is a friend of Paul Bowles who has lived in both Guatemala City and Tangiers, The Good Cripple is indeed a work of fiction. Against the ordered violence of late-20th-century Central America -- and, for that matter, of post-9/11 America -- an eye for an eye is more likely than a turned cheek. -- Nora Sohnen

Writing About Your Life
By William Zinsser
Marlowe & Co., $23.95


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