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Caroline Kraus
Broadway Books ($23.95)

By Holly Chase Williams

Sometimes getting what you want is the worst thing that could happen to you. In this affecting memoir, San Francisco bookstore clerk Caroline Kraus wants more than anything to become important to a co-worker, the free-spirited and enchanting Jane. It's unfortunate that Caroline, bent on fleeing her mother's death from cancer, has weak boundaries. But far worse is the fact that she's about to hook up with a woman with no boundaries at all.

At first, Jane seems to fill Caroline's emptiness, offering her love and calling her "honey." But Jane quickly isolates Caroline from other friends and their relationship disintegrates into a pathological symbiosis. Soon Jane's hold over Caroline is such that she dresses her, punishes her for smoking, and even speaks for her in front of Caroline's own family.

As Jane squanders Caroline's inheritance and plunges her into debt, the author begins to experience a passivity common to victims of domestic violence, and perceives herself as powerless to leave. Even when Jane brings home other partners, Caroline stays. Eventually her desire for oblivion leads to hitting herself in the head with a baseball bat, or to scenes like this:

The door flew open, smashed into my face, and knocked me down. Jane came out swinging. She was on top of me before I could speak, hands around my neck and knees on my chest. Her expression was frozen in terror, eyes wide, teeth barred. The back of my head hit the floor and the skin split just enough to make me yelp.

With its raw, wry truth and sparse, clean prose, this book cuts to the bone. Bibliophiles will also enjoy Caroline's descriptions of the bookstores she worked for and the encounters with celebrities such as Joan Baez and Studs Terkel that resulted. While it's unclear if Caroline can truly escape the phenomenon that is Jane, we do re-enter the real world with her at the end of a long dark journey.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2004 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2004