Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Night Bus, by Giampiero Rigosi, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Bitter Lemon; $14.95). Francesco is a gambling-addicted bus driver in Bologna, with a thuggish debt collector on his trail; Leila is a smart dame with a great pair of legs, who each night looks for a man to bed, drug, and rob. In perfect noir fashion, the two become uneasy allies, trying to escape a pair of vicious intelligence agents after Leila unknowingly swipes a mysterious document from a victim's apartment. Rigosi somewhat overdoes character quirks--one agent has a condition that leads him to constantly leak tears as he slices apart his victims--but an ever-expanding cast of creeps and criminals keeps the plot accelerating, and he describes the dripping of blood and the angle of a broken neck as lovingly as the preparation of a nice eggplant parmigiana.

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen (Algonquin; $23.95). To replicate the salty vernacular of a Depression-era circus, Gruen, in her third novel, did extensive research in archives and in the field, and her work pays off admirably. The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth is a roving fleabag ensemble of "cooch tents," "kinkers," and "hay burners," whose tyrannical m.c. is always on the lookout for "born freaks." Unfortunately, Jacob Jankowski, the novel's narrator and protagonist, carries less conviction than the period idiom. Recalling, near the end of his life, his work as a veterinarian for the circus and his love for a colleague's wife, he comes off as so relentlessly decent--an unwavering defender of animals, women, dwarves, cripples, and assorted ethnic groups--that he ceases to be interesting as a character.

The Senator and the Socialite, by Lawrence Otis Graham (HarperCollins; $27.95). In 1878, the Times ran its first wedding announcement for a black couple: Senator Blanche Kelso Bruce, a former slave who entered the Senate in the fading days of Reconstruction (many newspapers ignored his election, assuming that he would never be seated), and Josephine Willson, a daughter of the light-skinned black elite. …

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