Faces to watch: Books
William Tester, Peter Lefcourt, and Judith Van Gieson are some authors you should be reading
William Tester calls his first novel, Darling, a coming-of-age story, which is true as far as it goes: Tester’s yarn hinges on a carnal courtship of the family cow and other things that would make Holden Caulfield blush. ”It’s all true….And it’s all not true,” the author says of his novel, a sad, strange story powered by evocative detail. Born of ”God-conjuring mystical hillbillies,” the 31-year-old Tester grew up among the scrub and swamps of Florida. He says he had virtually no primary education and got into Columbia University’s undergraduate writing program in 1978 by submitting an essay about being chased by a ball peen hammer. And at Columbia, he met novelist Gordon Lish, who ”pulled the novel out of me.” Its creation took five years, during which Tester survived in Greenwich Village with the help of a National Endowment for the Arts grant and by modeling and selling his blood. ”I hope the NEA doesn’t chase me down over the book,” he says earnestly. ”God, it is bestiality.” Tester is nervous about what to expect from more than the NEA when Knopf publishes Darling, arriving in bookstores now. ”It’s a tough bucket to carry. I just hope it’s read by people who would read this kind of book.” And just what kind of people would they be? ”Not farm boys,” he says.
— Kelli Pryor
Novelist and screenwriter Peter Lefcourt asked himself: ”What could possibly happen that would shock this country the way the Dreyfus affair and its violent anti-Semitism shocked France a century ago?” His answer: A major league shortstop kissing his team’s second baseman in a Neiman Marcus dressing room. So goes Lefcourt’s second novel, The Dreyfus Affair: A Love Story, which Random House is betting will be a hit on sports pages this baseball season. Lefcourt, 49, who splits his time between Paris and Los Angeles, acquired his curve-ball flair for drama in Hollywood, where he has been a scriptwriter and playwright since the early 1970s. (In 1984, he won an Emmy as a writer-producer of Cagney & Lacey.) Last year he turned to fiction with a hilarious satire on Hollywood called The Deal, which was No. 1 in Century City. His new novel, about a superstar shortstop named Randy Dreyfus, takes on the country itself by playing the sanctity of America’s national pastime off rampant homophobia. ”The book is an attack against intolerant people,” says Lefcourt. ”I don’t mean to imply that it’s a political diatribe. It’s a comedy. It has a sweet, nice, romantic ending.” A made-for-Hollywood grand slam?
— Kelli Pryor
Judith Van Gieson
”I was reading a lot of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett,” says Judith Van Gieson, ”and I thought, someone should be writing these kinds of books with women in them.” So she set out to do it. After three rather quiet mysteries featuring a tough-talking, female Albuquerque lawyer, name of Neil Hamel, Van Gieson finally hits her stride with HarperCollins’ February publication of The Wolf Path. Set amid the tumbleweed and cacti of the Southwest, like her others, The Wolf Path is Van Gieson’s best book yet — crisp, taut, and utterly compelling. Van Gieson, 50, turned to writing after her 1978 divorce. She sold her Vermont real estate business, packed her bags, and moved to San Miguel de Allende, an artists’ and writers’ colony in Mexico. Inspired by the stark beauty of that country — and of Santa Fe, where she lived next — Van Gieson began writing her fiction. She cites Tony Hillerman as an inspiration, and is wary about natural comparisons to mystery writers Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton. ”The things I write about are different,” says Van Gieson, who divides her time between Albuquerque and Warren, Vt. ”I work an environmental issue into each book” — in this one, the plight of the Mexican gray wolf. And although Neil Hamel may be related to such fictional female sleuths as V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone, Van Gieson says it’s a distant kinship: ”For starters, she’s the only one with a steady man in her life.”
— Tina Jordan
She’s a household name in Britain, and if Random House has its way, she’ll soon be one here. Novelist Susan Crosland — dubbed ”the thinking reader’s Jackie Collins” by The Times of London — set the British literary world abuzz in 1989 with her first novel, the thriller Ruling Passions. Now she has done it again with her second, Dangerous Games, just out in Britain and slated for May publication here. Crosland, 56, a veteran journalist (and widow of prominent Labour party figure Anthony Crosland), says the highly successful novelist-politician Jeffrey Archer cornered her at a dinner party in 1986 and told her that her style would lend itself well to fiction. She was then working on a biography of gentleman spy Anthony Blunt, but ”I just couldn’t finish that book,” she admits. ”And I was in debt — I’d already spent a third of my advance on a Porsche.” So she took Archer’s advice and wrote a novel instead. Like Passions, her new book is about the two worlds she knows best: journalism and politics. ”But it’s not a political novel,” insists Crosland, who’s such an insider that she knows the colors of the sofas at 10 Downing Street. ”It’s a melodrama. With a fair bit of violence and humorous sex thrown in.” Sure sounds like politics.
— Tina Jordan
Mark Newgarden & Drew Friedman
Individually and collectively, Drew Friedman and Mark Newgarden write and draw cartoons that aspire to ”be a little subversive” (Friedman) and to ”go further than all the bland junk that’s out there” (Newgarden). Individually, they’ve contributed to National Lampoon and Spy; Newgarden, 32 (in glasses), invented the notorious Garbage Pail Kids, while Friedman, 33, recently published a hilariously meanspirited cartoon collection called Warts and All. Now they’ve teamed up to produce what seems likely to be 1992’s wittiest gross-out, Toxic High, a sticker series from Topps. The idea, says Newgarden, was to depict ”a high school that has nothing to do with reality, yet expresses all the craziest fantasies and nightmares you have about real high school.” Thus Friedman’s artwork depicts, on one card, a museum class trip in which students spray-paint ”Teachers Stink” over a Picasso; on another, a prim music teacher presides over an orchestra rehearsal in which all the players are drooling punk-rockers. Playing off kids’ insecurities about their bodies, grotesquely goofy nerds and volcanic acne eruptions are recurring images. ”I hope the PTA groups are horrified, and kids love them,” says Friedman. Just what are the taste boundaries, if any, on a project like this? ”Well, mucus and vomit were allowed, but no devil worship,” says Friedman, ”and decapitation was okay, but no blood spurting out.” ”Gunplay was a major thing to leave out,” adds Newgarden. Well, all right, then — as long as you boys know the rules.
— Ken Tucker