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Other Book Reviews:

Lightning Field
- Dana Spiotta

It's a Free Country
- Danny Goldberg

Some of the Parts
- T Cooper

- Jonathon Dee

The White
- Deborah Larsen
Into the Buzzsaw
- Kristina Borjesson

- Ian McEwan

The Black Veil
- Rick Moody

Tempting Faith DiNapoli
- Lisa Gabriele

- Lynn Breedlove

Africa Speaks
- Mark Goldblatt

The Shape of a Pocket
- John Berger

Media Unlimited
- Todd Gitlin

Carter Beats the Devil
- Glen David Gold

Somebody's Gotta Tell It!
Jack Newfield
Violence, Nudity, Adult Content
- Vince Passaro

Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace
- Gore Vidal
The War Against Cliche
- Martin Amis
Look at Me
- Jennifer Egan

Them: Adventures With Extremists
- Jon Ronson

Tishomingo Blues
- Elmore Leonard

Letters to a Young Contrarian - Christopher Hitchens
With Love and Squalor -
Kip Kotzen and Thomas Beller
Shanghai Baby -
Wei Hui
Shop Talk -
Philip Roth

Halls of Fame -
John D'Agata
This is Not a Novel -
David Markson
My Name is Red -
Orhan Pamuk
The Corrections -
Jonathan Franzen
Nickel and Dimed On (Not) Getting By in America -
Barbara Ehrenreich
Spreading Misandry
P. Nathanson and K. Young

Some of the Parts
by T. Cooper
(Akashic Books, 2002)

"Some of the Parts" starts out promising: a character named Isak accidentally finds employment at a Coney Island freak show - the act is trying to make audience members guess whether Isak is man or woman. But before the reader finds out, the chapter ends and there is a new narrator, and we are drawn into a new situation. There are four narrators in all: Arlene, a craft shop owner in Providence, is benign and literal-minded and slightly out of it, in a sweet way, sort of floating through life aimlessly. Her disorganized daughter Taylor, beautiful and manipulative, gets by on being coveted by others and accepting what they have to offer, while she remains sarcastic and detached, sort of floating through life aimlessly. Arlene's brother Charlie, who has just started to get sick with AIDS, manages to hang onto his stereotypically queenly sense of humor but is starting to get depressed, is addicted to Beverly Hills 90210 and is floating through what is left of his life aimlessly. Charlie's roommate and close friend Isak, who puts her androgynous looks to use at the freak show, turns to the occasional hustle, then abandons Charlie in New York for a one way ticket back to her hometown, LA, not sure what she'll do there, floating through life aimlessly.

Clearly these characters have a lot in common. A little too much in common. To start off with, the novel might have been stronger if its four voices were more distinct from one another. The casual tone that they share, while often quite readable, is familiar to the point of being generic. You've read something similar many times in contemporary literary journals: the speaker is cool and blunt, tries not to be flowery but becomes selectively poetic, offering significant details from psychology-laden landscapes and cynical observations on the nuances of social interaction, at times getting almost hyper-aware.

The narrative voice would not necessarily be problematic if the novel's plot was better developed. While Cooper has invented a unique cast, enticing the reader to stick around and find out what happens next, not all that much happens next, except that the characters swap coasts and cities. The main source of tension and conflict for each character is a vague sense of dissatisfaction that is just as vague at the close of the novel as it is at the start. Conversations, while realistic, are often extremely banal, and so slow as to seem like they're moving in real time. "I guess I just get to the place where I figure out that the answer is that there is no answer," says Isak. "And you let it go and do the best you can, try not to make the same mistakes over and over again. And that's all you can do." Cooper may have captured how people really speak, but has not managed to edit in a way that captures what is most interesting to read. As the pages turn, one gets the feeling that the author was not quite sure how to steer her story.

-- Christine Leahy


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