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Suite for Barbara Loden
By Nathalie Leger. (Dorothy, 128 pages, $16.)

"Suite for Barbara Loden" is difficult to describe. This award-winning, slim book has chunks of biography, art film history and feminist self-revelation — sort of Doris Lessing lite. Its premise: Author Nathalie Leger must write a short description of the 1970 art film "Wanda" for a movie guide and becomes obsessed with the life of actress Barbara Loden.

Loden more or less wrote the screenplay for the film, then directed and starred in it, basing it on a news article about a woman who thanked a judge for a 20-year sentence after a botched bank robbery. The film's main character is a coal miner's wife who has left her husband and children. Bad choices ensue.

"Suite" tracks Leger's research into Loden's life and death, superimposing aspects of Loden's life on the character of Wanda. (Loden grew up in poverty and died at 48 of cancer.) The comparison didn't entirely work for me, but I enjoyed the book nonetheless.

Themes that run through the book and film are the struggle to develop identity and how women allow themselves to be used. Although never considered a popular movie, "Wanda" was a hit with the avant-garde crowd. Go to YouTube to see Loden on "The Mike Douglas Show" with Yoko Ono and John Lennon.


By Jess Kidd. (Atria, 373 pages, $26.)

When a charming stranger comes to town, the residents of Mulderrig in the west of Ireland are curious but suspicious. And well they should be — the stranger, Mahony, is about to tear the cover off the town's darkest secrets.

Mahony was a foundling, left as a babe on the steps of an orphanage in Dublin, and he's been nothing but trouble ever since. He steals cars, he breaks the rules, and — as some of the villagers soon find — he communicates with the dead, although they don't always tell him the truth. He has come to Mulderrig to learn the secret of his birth; his mother, Orla, was a young girl who was murdered in the forest outside of town when Mahony was just a babe in arms. Who killed her? Who spirited him away across the country to the orphanage — and why?

"Himself" is Jess Kidd's confident, engaging debut novel. It has a captivating ensemble cast, great jolts of humor and danger, hair-raising plot twists and just enough darkness to make the magic feel true. A thoroughly enjoyable read.