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This installment: a memoir from a New Yorker insider; short stories by Sherman Alexie; a new take on old tales; and a novel about trying to create a sentient computer.

 

   The Receptionist by Janet Groth

 

Subtitled An Education at the New Yorker and boy, did she get one. Groth started in 1957 (around the time I came of age, as it were). She wanted to be a writer but that's not where you start. So why did she, beautiful, smart and talented, stay in a subservient role for 20 years? And during that time never developed a significant relationship--another puzzle. She became privy to the lives of "her" writers on many levels and shares that here, so there's certainly an element of gossip. And for quite a ways into the book, I really didn't like her. However in the mid-'60's she took a long solo vacation in Greece and that's when she gets down, both with herself and with us, and arrives at some deep self-revelations. From there she gets into academia, writes at last, and is now a professor emeritus. And finds the man of her dreams. (Ahh...) When she drops the armor, she becomes touching and much fuller, and I was glad to go along down memory lane with her.

 

   Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie

 

New and selected stories, many of which I already know and love. From the first, "Cry, Cry, Cry" in which an down on his luck Indian makes a cascade of bad choices but finds some purchase by getting into ceremonial dancing. To the last, "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," in which another Indian fallen on hard times goes on a loopy journey to retrieve his grandmother's regalia. These themes repeat in many of the stories, some very short, full of tough, rueful humor and lots of heart.

 

   Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge

 

The author, who writes very moving books for teens (many of which deal with gay themes), now turns his attention to old traditional tales with a new spin. Well not exactly new, because everyone knows what seeds of brutality and misery they contain. These are contemporary voices. For instance the miller's daughter who escapes her bloodthirsty fiance now "prefers to live alone and teach Feminist Theory & Practice at the local community college." The form of the stories is in blank verse and the illustrations are fabulous black and white cut-outs. A quick, original, entertaining read.

 

  

   A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins

 

Here's the second novel with the theme of trying to create a sentient computer and the snares thereof that I've read recently. (The first was Goodbye for Now, reviewed March 4.) Neill, named after his doctor father, is disaffected in SF. He's working on this project in Silicon Valley with two others and they hope to win a contest in which the judges try to determine via dialog whether the responder is human or machine. The model they've inputted: 12 years of Neill Sr.'s journals. He committed suicide and his computer avatar can't be "told" he's dead, an event that would shut him down. Protagonist Neill is divorced and looking for love without much success. His latest, young Rachel, is drawn into an EST-like cult. She lives in the hills of our very own Fairfax--fun to read about. Ultimately Neill finds out more about his father's death and takes a tentative step toward connection. Intriguing stuff.

 

Back next Monday.

 

 

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