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'My Date With Satan' is fresh, inventive

By Bradford Senning
Arizona Summer Wildcat
July 21, 1999
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Arizona Summer Wildcat

Arizona Summer Wildcat

After an ocean cruise accident, the only survivor, an adolescent girl, finds herself washed up on an island shore among a throng of rather good-looking native men to whom she gives the name "the boyfriends."

"The boyfriends" are without "girlfriends," speak an unknown language and engage in backward tribal customs. But there's a bit of the Huck Finn in this shipwrecked girl and she finds a way to make the most of her manful situation - she beds them all.

One of 13 short stories in Stacey Richter's debut book, "My Date With Satan," (Scribner, $22.00), "An Island of Boyfriends" is emblematic of the consuming but quirky depravity of each of Richter's main characters. Sex is not only rampant in "My Date with Satan," it is a matter of indifference, like washing one's hair. So too are drug usage and alien encounters.

Yet there is a lot of angst experienced by her characters in merely waiting for pleasure or disgust or something to kick in. Richter's stories are sopped with a vulgarity that spirits her characters while miring them in a false sense of redemption.

The female heroine of "Prom Night" swallows pills that delude her enough to lose her virginity, but she discovers some lucidity in thinking that she is abandoned to elements outside her control.

The male hero of "A Prodigy of Longing" wrestles with resentment and desire for his step-mom, ultimately loving her so fondly that he accepts her belief that they are alien spawns and moves to New Mexico with her to be closer to the alien action.

A chat-room Pippi Longstocking in the title piece, "My Date with Satan," dates an e-mail correspondent and stops the date at the point of consummation because he demands that she change, that is, that she go by her real name.

Although enjoying her stories is a bit like loving a baby in spite of its dirty diapers, there is a depth of expression and purposeful purposelessness in her prose that aligns her with some of the great authors of our times and times before, justifying the seedy pleasure of reading her works.

In a few of her stories, those in which the main characters are adolescents or at least fascinated by adolescence, there's the childish wisdom of J. D. Salinger's "Teddy," who as Richter's William (in "A Prodigy of Longing") appears the subject not of adulation but alienation.

At other times, her stories take on the unrelenting imagination of contemporary author Rick Moody's, whose animated prose opens up trench-coats to the senses. Yet while Moody expertly inspires the reader with the mental version of gooseflesh, Richter's version of this effect produces no less than full-body trauma.

Richter also has Bret Easton Ellis' unwavering eye for fame, fashion and drugs.

Her work is like a modern day "Go Ask Alice," or drug confessional, but without any tragic self-recognition and with a lot more invention.

This coming from a debut author, one whose home-base is Tucson. Formerly a film critic for the "Tucson Weekly," Richter is now nationally recognized and has won some impressive literary awards.

Deservedly so.

Her prose is fresh and inventive, her style calculated yet rough. This, her first book, is one of the most pleasing entries into the market this year.