Ultraluminous

The multi-aliased narrator of Katherine Faw's raunchy but cerebral Ultraluminous throws the heart-of-gold hooker cliché out the window. A high-end prostitute, she services only wealthy finance kingpins, one for each weekday--johns identified only by their habits and habitats, like the "junk-bond guy," the "art guy" and the "calf's brain guy." At home on the streets of her native New York City, she is freshly returned from a decade in Dubai, where she honed her trade while living with a bomb-making boyfriend she calls "the Sheikh." Faw's plot, such as it is, consists of snippets of the narrator's days and nights suggesting a pattern of sex, Duane Reade sushi, flirting with her branded heroin delivery guy, cherry bombs at a cop bar, galleries, mani-pedis, more sex, yoga, shopping at Time Warner Center and pierogis at a Polish diner. Beneath this circadian mosaic, however, is an inner life of ennui and resentment toward her clients. When she hooks up (for love) with a troubled "ex-Army Ranger guy" who has a closet full of guns, her path begins its turn toward what becomes an inevitable destructive conclusion.

Raised middle class in Wilkesboro, N.C., Faw was an outlaw kid with a taste for drugs and punk rock--which she worked to great effect in her spunky first novel, Young God, featuring a precocious 13-year-old Appalachian drug-dealing girl. Ultraluminous is equally daring with its balance of the crude and the lyrical, the routine with the kinky. It is a compact, piercing portrait of a woman taking charge of her unorthodox life. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.