by Christopher Narozny
by James Fleming
The Art Lover's War
by Brad Leithauser
Novel About My Wife
by Emily Perkins
If you're going to spend the money to buy a book, please buy one from a new or new to you author.
Get your best sellers from the library. Jonathan Franzen does not need your money, but I (and authors like me) do!
March, 2003, Carroll & Graf
Wagman is making something of a name for herself in the world of edgy fiction. Her first novel, Skin Deep (1997), was about a young woman's disturbing obsession with her physical appearance, while her second novel, Spontaneous (2000), addressed the phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion. Her newest book follows the lives of four total strangers whose paths have crossed after a three-car accident on an L.A. freeway. Dorothy, a hapless twentysomething, is about to marry a man she doesn't love; Madelyn is a depressed, unhappily married mother of two who has fallen in love with a client at the suicide hot line where she volunteers; Leo, who survived a nasty childhood with an abusive father, lives in his car; and Ray is a Beverly Hills cop obsessed with suicide whose wife has recently left him. The characters all have a slightly morbid quality, not a lighthearted one in the bunch. However, despite the relentlessly dark subject matter, Wagman's writing has a hypnotic, rhythmic quality that keeps the reader interested till the end.
Kathleen Hughes, Booklist
October, 2000, St.Martin's
The villain of screenwriter Wagman's wonderfully outrageous second novel is a sexually voracious dwarf who also happens to be the world authority on spontaneous human combustion. That's just a taste of the nonstop, fiery oddity with which Wagman (Skin Deep) aims to shock and entertainAand mostly she hits her mark. The narrative starts with a blast as an old woman named Auntie Ned bursts into flames. Her L.A. house (charred and smelly, with a freezer full of mysterious meat) is left to two beautiful, passionate sisters named Amy and Gwendolyn, whose mother was Ned's best friend. Amy, the older sibling, is by turns maternal and destructive; Gwendolyn is fiercely possessive and passive-aggressive. Their yin-yang interdependence turns perilous after Amy meets Roosevelt, the dim but kindly handyman who's putting their new house in order. Roosevelt is smitten with Amy instantly, but she wants to groom him for future marriage to Gwendolyn. Soon enough, she's training him in tantric sex techniques (no orgasm allowed); he's also burdened with a new pet lizard, and she's involved with the sinister, professorial dwarf. Roosevelt's indoctrination nearly drives him mad with frustration and desire. Meanwhile, the emotional and erotic tension between the two sisters rises to its boiling point. Wagman's satisfying denouement is at once in the tradition of "sisterhood" novels and a bawdy, bloody-minded sendup of them all: her fast-paced, bizarre and entertaining volume reads like a Mary Gaitskill story adapted for the screen by David Lynch. Fans of either or both of those creators will find this story explosively satisfying.
Leaves you breathless and asking for more.
The New York Post
October, 1997, Univ. Press of Mississippi
Diana Wagman's ''Skin Deep''... is a highly intelligent debut that asks some very disturbing questions about the power of female beauty.
Much in the way Margaret Atwood's first novel, ''The Edible Woman,'' addressed a woman's relationship to her physical appearance, ''Skin Deep'' offers an eccentric female protagonist who wrestles with issues of work and love. But whereas Marian MacAlpine moved in the light, frothy first-person world of 1960's Canada, the setting here is smoldering fin-de-siecle Los Angeles: self-absorbed, dangerous. Homeless people are burned while sleeping, children are left unattended on highway shoulders, beautiful strangers threaten bodily harm if looked at askance.
It is in this atmosphere of violence and detachment that Martha Ward, a former topless waitress, answers a classified ad seeking a woman to talk to, three hours a night, three times a week. In Martha's experience, ''women were only paid well for illicit behavior,'' she observes. Happily for the reader, this turns out not to be the case. Arriving at the hotel room for the first meeting with a man known to her only as Dr. Hamilton, Martha finds a paper bag containing a costume she must wear for their discussions: a shapeless navy blue sweatsuit, gloves, socks and hood. ''We are here to talk about beauty,'' the nervous, attractive young doctor reveals. ''I need -- I am . . . interested in a woman's point of view. . . . I don't want to be confused by the form you have taken because of your genetic background, nutrition and whatever accidents of nature have befallen you."
The philosophical impetus of ''Skin Deep'' could be tedious if handled by a less confident writer. Yet Wagman creates a spare, lonely world that feels realistic, if verging on painful... ''Skin Deep'' builds to a nerve-racking crescendo as Martha -- shrouded in her ''anonymous blue''-- becomes more and more dependent upon her thrice-weekly meetings with the mysteriously unhappy Hamilton...
[This is]a book that has posed all the right questions."
Courtney Weaver, The New York Times
Short Story Excerpts