BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Offbeat. Comic. Bawdy. Savage. Moving.

These are just a few of the adjectives that come to mind while trying to sum up SLAB, the new novel by Sarah Saterstrom which has just been published by Coffee House Press.

Set in the watery ruins of post-Katrina Mississippi, the novel is narrated by an erudite “performance artist” named Tiger who tells us that she once “worked in what could only be called a ‘sub-genre’ way.” Translation: she’d come on stage dressed up like Florence Nightingale or Helen Keller before stripping down and showing her titties to the denizens of the Bayou Trophy Club for Gentlemen. Tacky as it was, the routine earned her a thousand bucks a week–not bad for a young girl whose previous job was in a 7-11 (and who had also spent a year in juvenile detention for stealing a car).

Tiger is no ordinary drug-addled, cynical, hard-boiled stripper, though. She’s read more than a few books and has her own unique way of thinking about life and death and other existential matters. She also has an active imagination, as evidenced by her made-up interview with Barbara Walters, of which here is a brief excerpt:

“Barbara Walters: What do you do for recreation?
“Tiger: I like to party with my friends.”

Elsewhere in the book Tiger sounds off about her friends, lovers, ex-husband and family, especially her grandfather (who committed suicide) and her mother (who, post-hurricane, sits dazedly in a broken chair on the concrete slab which is all that is left of her home). Tiger’s voice is wittily mordant as she reflects on the natural disaster that wrecked so much of her world and covered it in water, but she is too much of a fighter–an actual tiger, really–to accept defeat herself.

Tiger will survive because, as she confides, she knows certain important things:

“don’t look a gift-horse
in the mouth don’t shit
where you eat don’t upset
the apple cart
don’t finger your food don’t
just sit there
don’t get your knickers
in a twist don’t let
the doorknob hit you where
the good Lord split you
don’t light a cigarette
in a meth lab”