Little Beauties

A San Francisco poet crafts a TV-movie-type story with saucy verve

By Kim Addonizio

Simon & Schuster (2005), $23

The three voices in Little Beauties -- a newborn, her teenage mom, and a beautiful obsessive-compulsive -- could, in the wrong hands, easily be TV-movie fodder: a touching story about love and learning and ... barf. In San Francisco poet Kim Addonizio's hands, though, the tale passes easily through the ol' BS detector and slides out clean. The spiky, unforgiving, and frankly sexual language that makes Addonizio's poetry popular is fleshed out here, and used to create a trio of characters both sympathetic and excruciating; even the baby winds up seeming irresponsible and New Age-y. Of the other two, we see inside the lady with OCD's head a little more. The author has done her homework on the medical realities of the disorder, and it shows in the painful details of Diana's life, especially the rules, used as chapter headings. Diana is a washer, so: "Rule # 21: Shower before getting in/touching the bed." "Rule # 39: Shower after any contact with an animal." Eventually, things start to look up: "Homework: Do not wash your hands more than five times a day, thirty seconds each time." It's very sad, and you can understand why her husband left her. The adolescent, Jamie, decides to keep the baby after she has her, moves in with Diana, then gets shitfaced and runs away, leaving them together -- Diana the obsessive-compulsive cannot bring herself to touch tiny Stella, who quite naturally soils her diapers. The overall effect is a satisfyingly long way from the Oxygen Network, and an amazing feat for a first-time novelist.

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