The Grizzly Maze
By Nick Jans
For thirteen summers, Timothy Treadwell pitched a tent in Alaska's bear country. He carried no rifle, mace, or scientific credentials. And he broke all the rules. As Jans reports in this wildly interesting book, Treadwell was often seen crawling around among the bruins on his haunches and even marching in their midst wearing a tuxedo. He told the public that "the bears have been misunderstood" and for his efforts, he got famous. And on October 5, 2003, he got what many feared was his inevitable comeuppance. A day before he and his girlfriend were to be picked up by bush plane, they were eaten. Jans does an admirable job of sorting through Treadwell's mythology, applying a healthy dose of journalistic skepticism yet never bludgeoning the man. Quoted in the book, a photographer who knew Treadwell muses: "Think of Tim out on that coast, hunkered in a leaky tent, always wet ... bug-bitten, living on peanut butter ... for thirteen years. ... What sort of a man would do this?" Perhaps a man hungry for something greater than what so many of us struggle so hard to achieve.
-- John Dicker
House of Thieves: Stories
By Kaui Hart Hemmings
Penguin Press, $22.95
Broken family relationships are well-covered literary terrain. But Hemmings adds a twist, setting it against a backdrop that many would consider heaven on earth: Hawaii. What's it like to be miserable in paradise? Whether a story unfolds from a father's, a son's, a daughter's, or a mother's perspective, the abiding theme is the not-so-thin membrane of anger, fear, and misunderstanding that separates people from each other. Just as Hemmings' characters walk the line between the Hawaii of fantasy and the Hawaii of their (and her) actual experience, they walk the line between the public facade and the starker realities of private life. Although there are moments when the author stumbles and her characters' pain becomes parody, for the most part her spare, often witty style draws us into their lives and lets us recognize our own moments of coming to see the world, and our places in it -- paradisiacal or not.
-- Kate Madden Yee
Snow White and Russian Red
By Dorota Maslowska, translated by Benjamin Paloff
Black Cat, $13
You know that kind of e-mail spam that features passages of text hovering on the border between gibberish and abstruse poetry, which you think could maybe make sense if you just looked at them from the right angle? For better or worse, this is what comes to mind toward the end of 25-year-old Maslowska's hip, slangy novel, first published abroad three years ago. As the novel opens, young Polish speed addict Andrej "Nails" Robakoski is finding out from a friend that his girlfriend is dumping him. Thereafter we follow Nails' misadventures, including quite possibly the most blackly hilarious recounting of the deflowering of a stoned girl that you'll ever read. Snow White's best moments are when a blustering narrative unites with humor and a good tale, and you're swept up into a breathless rant. At other times, though, Nails' hallucinatory theorizing leaves you feeling like the only sober person in a room full of, well, speed freaks.
-- Kim Hedges
Mad Mary Lamb
By Susan Tyler Hitchcock
Mary Lamb killed her mother with a carving knife before dinner one evening in 1796. Her brother, Charles Lamb, was one of his era's best-loved essayists and poets, and Hitchcock draws extensively from his and Mary's correspondence with London's literary elite to tell the story. Mary did not go to prison, nor was she put on trial. Instead, Charles had her committed to an asylum for several months. Although she returned there periodically, she lived with her brother until both were in their eighties, enjoying what they called a "double singleness." Collaborating with Charles on numerous writing projects, Mary lived a life available to few women of her era. And she felt little remorse for the killing. Shortly afterward, she wrote, "I shall see [my mother] again in heaven; she will then understand me better." In Hitchcock's sympathetic telling of the tale, she doesn't come out and say that Charles and Mary's exacting, irritable mother had it coming, but readers might well draw that conclusion.
-- Keith Bowers
The R. Crumb Handbook
By R. Crumb and Peter Poplaski
Now that Crumb has been catapulted into the High Art sphere, the former underground cartoonist seems a bit defensive about his new status as the baby boomers' William Hogarth. His new handbook, thankfully, still has the power to shock squares with its collection of previously published outrages, and when Crumb climbs outside his cels to provide essays on his life and times, his self-consciousness reminds us of what we always liked about him in the first place: his insecure, revenge-of-the nerds humor and his over-the-top twin enthusiasms for big-legged women and scratched old 78s. The book is a handy package of Crumb's greatest hits, all your favorite characters together in one place -- Angelfood McSpade, Whiteman, Mr. Natural, the Snoid -- along with Crumb's unsurprising confession that he was influenced more by Davy Crockett, Little Lulu, and Heckle and Jeckle than by Pieter Brueghel and the other European artists to whom well-meaning admirers are always trying to compare him. For true fans, the bonus R. Crumb's Music Sampler CD makes this all the more indispensable.
-- Kelly Vance
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