SEPTEMBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 9



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Kathy Lette's "Altar Ego"

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Anderson's "Angel Animals" - sometimes sappy stories of incredible pets

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Stephen Jay Gould's "Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms"

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  Kathy Lette's Altar Ego

 
ALTAR EGO
by Kathy Lette

US: William Morrow & Co, ISBN 0688171451 (Hardcover), price $23 USD, price through Amazon.com $16.10 USD.

UK: Picador, ISBN 0330352962 (paperback), price 5.99 GBP, price through Amazon.co.uk 4.79 GBP.


GRAHAM BRACK

At the risk of making our readers cringe, permit me to recall one of the great myths of male adolescence - familiar to many of us who went to all-male schools. Women are delicate, innocent, fragile creatures, cerebral and uninterested in matters of the flesh, who would not utter a vulgarity unless misled by wicked boys.

When we thought this, we had never read Kathy Lette, whose heroines are frequently vulgar, coarse, uninhibited and unblushingly plain funny. Rumour has it that her books appeal to women, but not to men. In our house, this is untrue; my wife finds her vulgar, coarse etc, while I find myself laughing against my better judgement. There are certainly occasions when a pun is forced, if not telegraphed. This is the verbal equivalent of the Denver Broncos having a first and goal from the one-yard line; they may try to kid you that a pass is in the offing, but we all know what is coming next.

The characters are clearly drawn and generally as subtle as a spade across the back of the head, but nonetheless strangely appealing. Even the awful ones have a certain larger-than-life grandeur, in the same way as Shakespeare's Richard III is not a nice human being but remains compelling. And if their lack of subtlety verges on stereotyping, then at least everyone gets the same treatment.

The plot is simply described. Becky Steele is in her thirties and has had a fairly bohemian lifestyle for some years. Indeed, she is the proud holder of the Girls' Night Out record for the shortest time between meeting someone and shagging him - nine minutes, since you ask. Now, however, she plans to marry the safe, reliable and dull Jeff. She is sure he is Mr. Right, but the question arises whether she ought not to try a few more Mr. Wrongs just to make sure. As a result, she ducks out on her wedding and embarks on a raunchy and high-octane fling with a young American rock star. His lifestyle is even more bohemian, involving sex, drugs, rock n' roll, more sex, alcohol and an aversion to personal hygiene. It appeals for some time, but Becky finds herself yearning for good old Jeff, dreary as he was, to provide her with some stability in her life. Unfortunately, Jeff has tired of waiting, and is now dating Becky's best friend.

But I doubt if many readers buy Ms. Lette's books for their plots. The enjoyment is in the one-liners, the sharp observations, and the voiced fears of our private lives. How many women, for example, have inwardly felt what Becky sets down on paper, the strong need to reverse out of a room so that a man cannot inspect the backs of your thighs?

One word of warning: I haven't seen the American cover, but the British one may tend to give the impression that this is a romance suitable for maiden aunts. Unless you have ultra-progressive maiden aunts, this is probably a mistake.

I enjoyed Altar Ego as an undemanding read with many laughs along the way. There are passages you may find yourself wanting to read to a friend, but most of the best are highly unsuitable for public recitation - except, perhaps, in convent schools.



GRAHAM BRACK, a pharmacist by day, is the staff book reviewer for Renaissance Online Magazine. He lives in Cornwall, England.



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