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LIZARD WINE by Elizabeth Engstrom


by Elizabeth Engstrom

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-385-31249-0
Publisher: Delta

Supertaut storytelling, after a dandy start, wanders off into pat implications of psychological trauma as the explanation for life's evils. Sometime horror writer Engstrom (Nightmare Flower, 1992, etc.) opts this time out for suspense and makes an avidly Hitchcockian discovery in the process—that miles of narrative can by gained in claustrophobic settings. The three female leads here—Elsie, Rebecca, and Tulie, all coeds at the University of Oregon—and the three male—Buck, Niles, and Songster, hobo neighbors and coworkers on the same housepainting crew—spend most of their time in cars. Elsie's bright idea is to get the girls dolled up in strumpety garb and descend on a cowboy bar, there to garner some extra cash with their feminine wiles. Rebecca, a Mormon, goes right along; but out of frustration Tulie, a recovering lesbian, abandons her two friends when Elsie's Camero stalls in a snowstorm. Enter the three stooges, who've decided to go camping in Buck's station wagon. Elsie and Rebecca continue on to the bar, while Tulie, in an effort to prove she's not a dyke, winds up staying with the hobo trio, even having tequila-soaked sex with the psychotic Songster. Things will get increasingly harrowing in Buck's car (the consensus is that the Songster killed a woman and disposed of her body) as Elsie, at the bar, unsuccessfully practices the world's oldest profession and Rebecca connects with a pimply cowhand—it's with him and his burly, rapist friend that Elsie and Rebecca end up. When Elsie shoots her assailant dead, the two girls flee back over the mountain, where they find Tulie in the throes of a violent struggle to keep three men from killing her before they kill each other. Lacing her story with retrospective vignettes of broken families and poor-as-dirt poverty, Engstrom tries to keep things swift and scary, but, even given the psychosocial background, none of the final tragedy really seems earned.