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Local Lit

More recent and upcoming releases by area authors

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AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTYTracy LettsTheatre Communications Group, $13.95

Chicago-based actor and writer Tracy Letts won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in drama for August: Osage County, which means it must be awfully good, right? Well, right. But the Pulitzer committee's famous for preferring scripts the members have seen in performance, suggesting that "good" may mean it's the production that sings. Or maybe they felt it was Letts's turn to win, since his Man From Nebraska was a finalist in 2004. Letts's writing might well be the least of what's good about the play.

As it happens, though, that's not the case. His anatomization of a profoundly—and yet not all that exceptionally—dysfunctional Oklahoma family is almost as compelling on the page as it is onstage. In a way, it's more compelling: disengaged from theatrical strategies, his language is isolated in its spare grace, and his characters can be seen clear through to their psychic skeletons. Slowed down, clever or cunning gestures are easier to catch. Reading gave me the chance to spend more time with the family's eldest daughter, 46-year-old Barbara, for example, and appreciate what a perfectly formed child of addiction she is. Certain things are lost, like the marvelous cacaphony of Letts's crowd scenes, but the script is well worth reading whether or not you've seen the play. —Tony Adler

THE BRASS BED Jennifer StevensonBallantine, $6.99

When Jennifer Stevenson's trashy, sexy, and magical first novel Trash Sex Magic came out four years ago, the Evanston writer said she was already working on a new book, about an English nobleman whose sexually frustrated mistress makes him an incubus and confines him to a bed until he can satisfy 100 women. The Brass Bed, published this month, is that book—and it's every bit as entertainingly kinky as Stevenson's debut. Jewel Heiss, a frisky fraud investigator for the Chicago Department of Consumer Affairs, is assigned to check out the sex therapist her boss's wife has been seeing. The smooth-talking therapist doesn't do much more than prescribe a nap on an antique brass bed, but his female clients all wake up really, really happy. Jewel goes undercover under the covers, and finds the sex—did she dream it? was she drugged?—so amazing that she decides the investigation requires repeat visits. Is she the 100th woman? It would seem so, because the incubus is freed from the curse and takes quite a shine to her. But despite the mind-blowing sex, she's not sure she wants a committed relationship with a former demon. As if things weren't already odd enough, wish-granting genies and cigarette-smoking pigeons further enliven this bawdy, often flat-out hilarious tale. —Jerome Ludwig

BORING BORING BORING BORING BORING BORING BORING Zach PlagueFeatherproof, $14.95

Zach Plague (aka Featherproof cofounder Zach Dodson) wants you to remember you're reading a book the way Bertolt Brecht wanted audiences to remember they were watching a play—keep up that fourth wall, don't fall seamlessly into the story. He uses more than 100 typefaces, plus illustrations, as alienation devices in this ridiculous, cute, antic, anticlimactic, clever, only fairly interesting but mostly well written, and occasionally funny romp filled with sex, drugs, and stale satire of art world nonsense. Design aside, B7 is a fairly conventional novel (albeit with magical elements) that moves forward in shifting third-person segments, written from the points of view of various 19-year-old art students and their friends and associates. The plot involves a power struggle between two kingpins of the art world in an unnamed city: young Ollister and the Platypus, his former mentor. There's also a love story. I was never quite sure what was at stake, though the plot centers on Ollister's missing gray book—a sort of seer's diary that creates the future by recording events that haven't happened yet. Set for formal release by Chicago's most innovative press on August 1, Boring will ultimately come in five formats, including a poster set and a CD. But the whole book can be read now at zachplague.com, and a series of free minibooks designed by Plague can be dowloaded at featherproof.com. —S.L. Wisenberg

CALUMET CITY Charlie NewtonTouchstone, $14

Charlie Newton's debut police thriller has shoot-'em-ups, gangbangers, racial tension, and political corruption. But at its heart, it's about loyalty. Maybe all cop novels—and, likewise, military novels—are about loyalty, when you get down to it. Newton's first-person narrator, Patti Black, is a ballyhooed Chicago police veteran who's successfully kept her past at arm's length—which is also where she keeps the people in her life. She doesn't want to think about the violent foster home in Calumet City, Indiana, where she was sexually abused, or her time on the streets, or the son she gave up for adoption. But a body in a basement in Auburn Gresham starts an investigation that leads her inexorably back to all of it. To Newton's credit, the book keeps you guessing, even when it seems that much has already been revealed. Black's voice is authentic, though her psychological makeup is by-the-book: she's The Wounded Soul Who Learns to Trust (her remarkably loyal friends). The book is grislier than I think it needs to be, but on the other hand, what's a thriller without blood, guts, and a tortured dog? —S.L. Wisenberg

M.I.A. Michael Allen DymmochThomas Dunne Books, $24.95

More Lifetime movie adaptation candidate than mystery, Michael Allen Dymmoch's seventh novel trades in all the standard tropes of the romance novel. Rhiann Fahey has recently lost her state trooper husband to a car accident. She and her teenage son, Jimmy, are still deep in grief when a mysterious stranger moves in next door. Everyone but everyone—five men in all—is hopelessly in love with Rhiann, who's described as a stunning black Irish lass, and the stranger's no different. Peril comes in the form of a risibly brutish rival for Rhiann's affections, and there are plenty of plodding fistfights, car chases, and unprotected sex. I sussed out the story's supposed revelation on page 25, with 267 left to go, and in the ludicrous ending the bad guy (spoiler alert!) dies after tripping over a pot of chrysanthemums. —Kate Schmidt

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