Entertainment News: Sunday, November 21, 1999

“Soft Maniacs” by Maggie Estep 

Reviewed by Mark Lindquist
Special to The Seattle Times

If you like your fiction dark, demented and highly sexed, this book is for you.

You may even remember author Magge Estep as the videogenic gamin on MTV’s “Poetry Unplugged,” circa 1993. She has since toured as a poet with Lollapalooza, formed a band that opened for Courtney Love’s band, Hole, and released two CDs. Her first novel, “Diary of an Emotional Idiot,” was published in 1997. Kirkus Reviews called it “semi-literate.”

“Soft Maniacs,” her second book, is a collection of interconnected stories focused on two women: Jody, a crazy psychiatrist, and Katie, a crazy lion-tamer’s daughter. The stories are narrated in first person by the various men who have sex with them, love them, hurt them and maybe save them.

This narrative technique is terrifically effective at first, but eventually suffers from a blurring of the voices as the narrator’s personalities are overpowered by the author’s distinct tics. However, this can be forgiven if you accept that this is a woman writing about women in the way she suspects they are seen by men. That may be part of the point.

The stories all build on each other, and none lend themselves to a useful synopsis. The common theme is damaged and lost souls on the mend. Though Estep’s writing can be ragged, in the end she proves herself to be considerably more than semi-literate.

The last two stories both pack epiphanies that are surprising and gratifying. This book is the work of a skillful artist who, like her characters, is searching through the mania of modern life for something sane and worthwhile.

As one of the characters says to a suicidal woman standing on a window ledge, “Maybe there are reasons to go, but there are reasons to stay, too.”


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