"The Elementary Particles" and "The Phish Companion: A Guide to the Band and Their Music" 

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All Hope Abandon, Ye Who Enter Here
In "The Elementary Particles," (Knopf $25), the European best seller translated from the French by Frank Wynne, Michel Houellebecq writes of two half-brothers, Bruno and Michel, a writer and a biologist, respectively. A cycle of hedonism, parental desertion and estrangement, begun in the '60s with Bruno and Michel's mother, repeats itself in their lives. Only science progresses in the midst of "the suicide of the western world." Michel, whose last name is Djerzinski like the Stalinist, has left his research position near Paris to brood over free will and other questions that arise in molecular science. Michel's strange sabbatical, taken without a clear purpose and interrupted by visits from Bruno, forms the novel's frame. Conversations with Bruno are provocative, because while researching society's natural progression from hedonism into the desire to inflict pain on others, he indulges his own sexual appetites. Exploring a camp for nudists called the "Lieu de Changement," he finally meets a libertine with whom he finds pleasure in group sex, which follows certain rules and can be seen as democratic, allowing consensual people the pursuit of happiness. As Houellebecq sees it, French society has ditched religion, its former pilot, in favor of New Age commerical slogans. As one mail order catalog preaches: "Optimism, generosity, complicity and harmony make the world go round. The future is female." Will Michel envision a solution that spares the human animal his bestial ordeal? Somehow, this hope makes us continue, skirting passages of graphic sadism and bad poetry, like rats in a dark maze. Houellebecq is trying to sensitize his readers by means of brutal language and thought, which Frank Wynne unhesitatingly translates. If this is your cup of tea, look for translations of Houellebecq's most recent novel, "Lanzarote," which should be on the way. - Ann Bayliss Go Phishing
Three years ago Phish fans formed the nonprofit corporation, the Mockingbird Foundation for two purposes. One was to produce a tribute album for the 17-year old jam band. The other was to release a definitive book about the band and then donate the proceeds to charity. They've done it. "The Phish Companion: A Guide to the Band and Their Music" (Miller Freeman Books $30) by the Mockingbird Foundation is a manifestation of fan dedication and obsession with the most-followed live act in America. The companion is virtually an encyclopedia of Phishdom. Every concert, set, song and band member of the Vermont-based jam band is studied: fan concert reviews and set lists from every concert since the bands beginnings at the University of Vermont up to the last show before their hiatus this year. The book is full of charts that show the number of times Phish has played a song and opened a concert with a certain song. Also, the book features interviews with people close to the band like lighting director Chris Kuroda. Die-hard Phish fans will want this book before the next tour. Anyone who wants to know more about the band, or just wants to get a clear picture of the subculture that surrounds the group, should pick up the book. Of course, if you want to see the best concert venues according to Phish fans, "The Phish Companion" also offers a review of every concert venue Phish has played at since 1983. — Jacob Parcell


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