Brainy Love

SITTING AROUND MY dark apartment, waiting for winter to end, drumming my fingers on the table: drum, drum, drum. Suddenly the phone. Hot tip: Robert Boswell's new book is here. My favorite writer. Read his third novel, Mystery Ride, four times.

Jumped into my boots. So sick of boots: month seven of boots, jumped into them anyway. Sprinted up Hennepin, totally out of breath, and there it is in a big stack: American Owned Love. Can't wait. But wait. Is this book the quirky, brainy love story I crave? American Owned Love is about relations between the New Mexico town of Persimmon and its poverty-stricken twin, Apuro: border relations, social inequality, important stuff. An important book?

Suddenly, the phone. It's Boswell. I demand an explanation. Don't worry, he says. "This novel certainly engages political issues, but I hope it does it in human terms. What you leave the novel with is a feeling of knowing these people, and not a feeling of having been lectured to or anything."

Well okay. If you insist. Still, the first couple chapters are slow going, heavy with pop-culture references. "To be an American writer you can't ignore the popular culture," Boswell tells me. "For most Americans that's the only culture they have. I don't want to merely write about academics and intellectuals."

I read on. Suddenly, total Boswell. Absorbing, quirky, exquisite characters, swooping plot, hypnotizing, mesmerizing: Take a vacation, read a book. The striving, confused teen-age Rita becomes my best friend. So does the brilliant and naive Enrique. But I totally understand Rita's mom Gay... totally. I even care about the angry, sexy villain Rudy. I am in New Mexico. I see the night-black Rio Grande. I feel the hot sun. I near the end. I struggle, I cry. Must it end? Why must everything always end? O woe.

How does he do it? Boswell answers: "When I was a kid, when we would play pirates, I wouldn't just be playing pirates. I'd be playing pirates from the imaginary book I had written about pirates. I would play trying to find a good point to end chapter one and go on to chapter two. I'd pretend I had written a book about pirates that we were just acting out. I've always had an obsession with narrative." Okay. Your eccentric childhood: our great good fortune. I'll be in the front row Thursday night, swooning at the man's storytelling, no doubt wearing these damn boots.

Robert Boswell reads Thursday at the Hungry Mind at 8 p.m.; 699-0587.

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