Books by Ann Nietzke

SOLO SPINOUT by Ann Nietzke
Released: April 12, 1996

Mining John Updike's territory of vaguely bitter, contemplative middle-age, but from a clear-eyed female perspective, Nietzke's (the nonfiction Natalie on the Street, 1994) first collection offers the last word on burnt-out baby boomdom in southern California. The women in Nietzke's tales confront common dilemmas with a surly disregard for their presumed timelessness: Husbands have split, lesbianism has replaced straight domesticity, menopause looms. In the title story, Lili develops attachments to laundry and gin while considering the absence of her male lover. When he returns, abjectly, it's difficult to know whether she feels elated or merely reassured. ``Los Angeles Here and Now'' hinges on the accidental delivery of a cremated young surfer's ashes to a woman who, after she takes the remains to her grieving neighbor, finds herself sexually enticed by the woman's cool suffering. ``No Man's Land'' is a novella in the form of an extended, Proustian meditation, with a tennis racket returned by protagonist Corinne's ex-husband sparking her recollections of that failed marriage. Her husband, Jack, was just free of one marriage and considerably older than Corinne when they got hitched; now Jack is on wife number three, and Corinne has fallen in love with a woman. In fact, Corinne and Jack shared just two passions: one for tennis, the other for Lela, a willowy temptress who lures everyone toward sexual reckonings. With tennis as her main conceit, Nietzke uses contrasting playing styles—Corinne's is stolid and dependable, the younger Lela's slashing and aggressive—both to structure the narrative and explore the ways in which women who came of age in the 1960s have changed. With her unwavering eye for the foibles of L.A. utopianism and her tremendous grasp of social mores, Nietzke has been compared with Joan Didion. This book, however, is less reportage than a quiet feast of unforgettable characters. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1994

Novelist Nietzke (Windowlight, not reviewed) effectively brings the serious problem of homelessness to a comprehensible level in her sensitive account of a few months in the life of one woman who made her home on a Los Angeles sidewalk. As the preface notes, this is not a standard case study—names are changed, locations obscured, and conversations reconstructed- -yet one senses that the account is as honest as Nietzke can make it while still respecting the independence of the ``bag lady'' who lived on her street. Soon after Nietzke first approached 74-year-old Natalie, she began recording and trying to make sense of their encounters. In addition to facing the problems inherent in her lonely, homeless life (no toilet, no place to cook, bathe, or change clothes, no protection from the elements), Natalie displayed symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia, which would make it difficult for her to adapt to life in a shelter for the homeless mentally ill, such as the one where Nietzke worked. Nietzke would bring Natalie food (e.g., bananas or a couple of boiled eggs), dispose of her packaged excrement, and occasionally try to coax her into taking a sponge bath, washing her hair, or changing some piece of her clothing. Equally important, Nietzke, with determined patience, conversed with this elderly, frightened woman—even though they couldn't always understand each other. Far from admonishing Natalie for her ways (or admonishing us for the part we play in this drama, if only by inaction), Nietzke looks at the person we want to label as different and sees similarity: ``It is terrifying to face the `givens' in life, both what we are given and what we are spared. I could be Natalie, she could be me.'' While literary style and sympathetic perspective make this book easy to read, it is the straightforward approach to Natalie herself that makes it well worth reading. Read full book review >