Book Review Archives

Auto-Erotica

By: Stacia Saint Owens
Reviewed by: Colin Crews
Livingston Press, 2009
$15.95, Paper

Any one of Stacia Saint Owens’ female protagonists could be the title character of The Doors song “L.A. Woman.” However, Auto-Erotica is more than motels, money, murder, and madness. The winner of the prestigious Tartt First Fiction Award is also brutal, funny, sexy, and consistently compelling. Spanning thirteen tautly written short stories, Saint Owens recalibrates Hollywood’s soft filter focus into stark high definition and reveals the flaws and scars that can only be seen at pointblank range.

The tone of the collection is set immediately. “Lurid Details” follows a young writer from the heartland. A native of Kansas herself, Saint Owens is impressive in detailing characters that are also Midwestern transplants to Hollywood. The unnamed girl thrives on the “eccentric dysfunction” of the city and considers it her “life saving nectar,” but during a lunchtime appointment she learns that the city is as dangerous as it is inspiring.

Saint Owens examines the lives of wealthy teens in “Once Removed.” A busload of friends, comprised of celebrities’ children, travel into the desert for an afternoon of drugs and sun. Describing the group of celebrity teens as an “uneven sprinkling of famous body parts,” Saint Owens shows her wit in what is an otherwise disturbing tale of abandonment.

“Viv Thraves Goes Missing” depicts the lives of two call-girls who look enough alike that they sell themselves as twins. The story of suspicion and murder is propelled in postcard-like interludes. Some sections are no longer than a sentence or two. In less apt hands, such daring stylistic choices could be distracting. However, in “Viv Thraves Goes Missing” and throughout Auto-Erotica, Saint Owens skillfully combines boldness with narrative, main-lining the story to the reader using the most efficient and effective delivery device available.

The protagonist in “Once Removed” is described by her mother’s handlers as “alt-alt.” Saint Owens style could be described similarly as alt-noir, but her range defies categorization. From “Inheritance” and its staccato narrative to the shifting perspectives of “Kidnapping Lessons” and “Auto-Erotica,” Saint Owens writes with a nimbleness that is clever and provocative. “Auto-Erotica” is infused with smart descriptions and grim reflections. In Saint Owens’ Los Angeles “lawn sprinklers chattered like monkeys,” “the newly thin are like freshly hatched zombies,” and the only sin is failing “to make a lasting impression.”

Saint Owens’ builds a gallery of characters that want to escape “from the constant pining for sustenance” but live where “sensationalism is the local religion.” Auto-Erotica is an unflinching and panoramic vision of the lives of the famous, almost famous, and the infamous. June 2010

Colin Crews is a freelance writer living in Irondale, Alabama.