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As the second-generation alcoholic and pill-popping protagonist of this street-level ramble points out, this is “not the old movie with the dame in bondage lying stupid on the rails.” Sextant is a quest novel about a hardened heroine with neither the wherewithal or the equipment to embark on one: standing on a boat, Cassy notes, “I made a sextant out of my hand,” and it’s all she has to guide her. Although Cassy Peerson isn’t always convinced she really wants to live, she’s more adept at running from bad scenes than lying prone. She lives in a small car on the beach somewhere along the California coast and feels safest underwater, so it’s fitting that she’s a mermaid in a bar, a job she’s found thanks to a resident drag queen who takes Cassy under his/her wing. With Cassy’s mind “constantly sliding out on an opiate tanker,” this book reads like a random cocktail of memories spiked with the poisons of childhood neglect, adolescent gangs, abuse and low-lifes. While Maya Merrick’s attention deficit-disordered narrative style is often confusing, what seems to be a haphazard jumble often results in startling juxtapositions. As risk-taking in prose as Cassy is in life, Merrick’s debut novel never Hollywoods a difficult scene or character, achieving authenticity in disorientation, dirt and detritus. (Suzanne Alyssa Andrew)

by Maya Merrick. Conundrum Press, $14.95, 249 pgs, P.O. Box 55003, CSP Fairmount, Montreal, QC, H2T 3E2, http://home.ican.net/~conpress


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