Burning Girl

BOOKBURNING GIRLBen Neihart Rob Weisbach Books 245 pp., $24

Blood. Money. Sex. Lots of sex. And hip college kids, too!

Drew Burke is pre-med at Johns Hopkins. As a scholarship student from working-class roots in New Orleans, he knows what it is to struggle, but he is drawn to the fast and easy life of his pampered friends--Bahar Richards, a rich bitch who spins friends into enemies almost as quickly as she spends money and Jake, her hot hunky brother, an architecture major at Franklin & Marshall, lean and tanned from working building sites all across the country. Drew feels like Bahar is part of his soul--he would do anything for her. And when it comes to Drew's romance with Jake--he just wants to do it. However, when the three join at the Richards' secluded home for a long weekend, brother and sister come on stronger than Drew ever expected. By the novel's whirlwind conclusion, he must make sense out of a dark past that is tangled in manipulation and soaked with blood.

This is Ben Neihart's second novel, Burning Girl. It's a literary soap opera, the kind you hate to love--let's say, "Beverly Hills 90210" meets "America's

Most Wanted." After a somewhat slow start, thisguilty goody picks up momentum until you can onlybear to put the book down to spread the juicygossip. Is Bahar really pregnant? Who is the girlwho looks like Sylvia Plath? Was Jake at the sceneof the crime? And with whom will Drew sleep next?

No...Yes!...You're Kidding!

Neihart's prose is fast, fresh and best readout loud: "He was actually in training for Jake.To make himself a hardy, decent, dependable,smart, foxy boyfriend. Because Jake was coming onlike a Hummer, and because Drew had no fuckingintention of going another month all byhimself--not ever. Aloneness was a slow fault thatkilled you."

Neihart's words cruise over slippery situationsand sketchy characters at top speeds. He hasmerciless perception when it comes to theartificial in real life. The opening chaptersglitter with name brands and dropped popreferences. Drew and crew can be incredibly slimy,but never see-through. At times the novel seemssuperficial, but Burning Girl is no bore. If thedialogue is sometimes a bit stilted, it's becauseit's too damn slick. Do we care if this ismasterful irony or just plastic writing? NO! We'llsnort at Drew's tacky overtures and Bahar'sspitfire tactics and file it all under "Dirt."Then we'll move on to the good stuff.

If you're hooked on "All My Children" and havea weakness when it comes to keeping secrets, thenBurning Girl is for you. Don't expect insightfulsocial commentary. Don't expect anything. Justjoin the ride: Burning Girl

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