Beach Reads

Sun Burnin', Page Turnin'

Summer's here—at last! Time to pack a picnic basket, sit in traffic, and stake out a few yards on the beach, where you can sip tepid mojitos and fry yourself to a crisp. As a diversion from that unmistakable slow-cook odor, the Voice presents enough chess thrillers, plague porn, and Rummie versifying to keep you busy for the next two months. For poolside use, we recommend laminating this page. Then indicate to your servant which title you want by simply pointing with a barbecue drumstick. —Ed Park

illustration: Yoko Shimizu

By Larry Kirwan
Thunder's Mouth, 310 pp., $14.95
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Paul croons in Vegas, George is a priest, Ringo loiters while wife Maureen brings in the hair-salon moolah, and John? He's known as "Looney Lennon," on the dole in 1987 Liverpool—the awful epilogue to his heated decision to dissolve the Beatles after "Please Please Me." Subtle as a blunderbuss, Kirwan's alternate history is The Man in the High Castle for those who can parse the importance of "How Do You Do It," and he takes such liberties with half-lives which never were that one fears a lawsuit-wielding Yoko materializing on the horizon. With a fine feel for the tactile minutiae of performance and a reckless disregard for Beatlemaniac pieties (halfway through, we learn that Paul's trying to divorce Cher), Liverpool Fantasy is more than a clever coda to one's marathon viewing of the recent Anthology DVD release: Within its covers, the dead come roaring back to life. —E.P.

By Erica Simone Turnipseed
Amistad/HarperCollins, 305 pp., $19.95
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Star-crossed lovers Noire, an artsy Ph.D. candidate with a flair for languages, and Innocent, an investment banker from Côte d'Ivoire, West Africa, meet at a book signing, where the featured author lectures on how to build a strong black nation through diversifying stock portfolios. Despite clashing sensibilities, and a hilarious host of homies and homegirls, whose meddling threatens to derail their romance, Noire and Innocent embark on an amorous odyssey that hits black boho haunts from New Orleans and the South Sea Islands to Paris and Abidjan. Along the way, with deliciously and responsibly rendered love scenes (condoms abound), Turnipseed explores not only the much hyped quest of Gen X brothers and sisters getting, and trying to stay, together amid a growing class divide and collapsing global boundaries, but gay love, bi love, interracial love, and good, old-fashioned self-love. It's an update of poet Nikki Giovanni's '60s lyric: "Black love is Black wealth." —Angela Ards

By Margaret Atwood
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 376 pp., $26
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In Atwood's first dystopic excursion since The Handmaid's Tale, a worldwide plague leaves a lone human holdout (he calls himself Snowman) to play exasperated messiah to a test-tube race of childlike "Crakers" (not unlike H.G. Wells's Eloi). Scenes from the post-doomsday badlands alternate with flashbacks to the scarcely idyllic buildup, when Snowman was Jimmy, growing up with mad-scientist-to-be Crake in Brave New World pharmaceutical colonies (segregated from seedy Blade Runner "pleeblands"). Hinging haphazardly on the romantic triangle that emerges when Oryx, the boys' third-world cyberfantasy, materializes as inscrutable temptress, O&C's scenario factorizes down to tidy ironies—the most resonant one in this Genesis 2.0 being that even after religion is genetically eliminated, primitive belief systems regerminate like weeds. The best bits detail the indignities that await the scientifically inept in a Merck-antile future. Jimmy the wordsmith wanders the ravaged earth, haunted by the imminent extinction of his vocabulary, all too aware of his morbidly comic role in this cosmic disaster—the copywriter for the apocalypse, condemned to sell the end of the world, and then survive it. —Dennis Lim

By Walter Tevis
Vintage, 243 pp., $18
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Even pawn-pushing patzers need to read the late Tevis's knuckle-biting wonder, in which eight-year-old Beth Harmon learns chess from the janitor at her Kentucky orphanage and proceeds on a knight's tour into the deepest ranks of world competition. Tevis shows how the game fills in every gap left by the deprivations of her childhood, and his marvelous blow-by-blow descriptions channel the heat from reams of chess-journal ?s and !s. It's an American rejoinder to Nabokov's The Defense, and as in that novel, the excruciatingly focused life of the mind begins to seem like life itself: I move, therefore I am. With intense grace, Tevis finds the art to describe art. —E.P.

By Geoffrey Pyke
Collins Library/McSweeney's, 217 pp., $18

Geoffrey Pyke was a shiftless Cambridge student who, on assignment for a London newspaper in WW I, penetrated Germany's closed borders armed only with a fake passport, a decent command of the language, and a keen eye for personal and national peculiarity. (His eye could be pretty peculiar itself, as with his repeated claim that the standard Prussian "has no back to his head.") Arrested shortly thereafter, Pyke was offered an uncomfortably close look at the systemic rigors of Prussian punishment in a series of prisons, before being transferred to Ruhleben, a racetrack turned makeshift colony for Brits caught in the country after the clampdown. The prankish spirit that led Pyke to undertake the trip, goaded by "above all things the colossal humour of the idea," finally led him to discover a means of escape. How, I won't tell, except to note that it involved adopting the mentality of French master criminal Arsene Lupin—who Pyke judged to be infinitely more baffling to the German mind than "somewhat bourgeois Englishman" Sherlock Holmes. In the end, the insights into Pyke's own mentality prove as fascinating as his adventure. —B. Kite

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