STARTING FROM SCRATCH
By Susan Gilbert-Collins (Simon & Schuster, 320 pages, $15)
Few books are set in South Dakota, and state native Susan Gilbert-Collins clearly took to heart the old saw to "write what you know." The result of her debut novel is a spot-on depiction of the terseness that exists in the state's landscape as well as its people. Yet as a native myself, it all felt as warm and familiar as the recipe for Aunt Rubina's Pink Dessert. Yes, this is another novel-with-recipes, yet with blessedly far more story than souffle. Grad student Olivia Tschetter, youngest of four sisters, worries her family when she doesn't snap back to normal after their mother unexpectedly dies. A stint at Meals on Wheels in Brookings forces her to interact with others, including a woman whom her mother once had befriended, but with violent results. The tale's interconnections could strain credulity -- unless you know how everyone's business is everyone's business in a small town. Or a small state: People's preoccupation with Olivia's sister, Ruby, who does the weather on TV in Sioux Falls, seems almost comic relief until Gilbert-Collins brings it into the heart of the drama as swiftly and tumultuously as the storms Ruby likes to chase. Gilbert-Collins will be at the Bookcase, 607 E. Lake St., Wayzata, at 7 p.m. Sept. 30.
KIM ODE, STAFF WRITER
the big short: inside the doomsday machine
By Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton & Co., $27.95, 266 pages)
In "Liar's Poker," Michael Lewis gave us a Wall Street money machine that was easy to ridicule and despise, populated by swaggering macho men traders who showed off at the poker table and cracked crude, misogynistic jokes. By contrast, the hedge fund managers who become insanely rich in Lewis' latest book, "The Big Short," are eminently likable. They are bookish loners like Mike Burry, a former surgeon with a glass eye who fears crowds; Steve Eisman, a foul-mouthed fan of superhero comic books, and Charlie Medley and Jaime Mai, liberal arts grads who operate from a garage in Berkeley, Calif. Their outsider status gave them power. Divorced from the herd mentality on Wall Street, they did the sort of nitty-gritty analysis that should have been done by credit rating agencies and the Federal Reserve. In the end, they made billions of dollars betting against the housing market and, by extension, the entire U.S. economy. It's hard not to root for Eisman as he fumbles through a Las Vegas subprime mortgage conference, trying to find people who could prove him wrong about the economic catastrophe he saw ahead. Lewis depicts a Wall Street where bankers are too specialized to see the big picture (as opposed to just greedy). Taken as a whole, Lewis' book is a superbly written, 266-page encomium to oddballs. It's also a powerful rebuke to the assertion (still made by many economists and bank regulators) that no one could have possibly foreseen the severity of the current financial crisis. By ignoring Wall Street groupthink, this band of misfits certainly did.
CHRIS SERRES , STAFF WRITER