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The Edge

September 28, 2009

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‘Little Bird of Heaven’ (Books)

“Little Bird of Heaven” (HarperCollins, 448 pages, $25.99), by Joyce Carol Oates: In February 1983, alluring songstress and part-time heroin addict Zoe Kruller is found murdered in her home in the dying Rust Belt town of Sparta, N.Y. When the police hunt for suspects, they come up with her mechanic husband, Delray, and her lover, construction worker Eddy Diehl.

Neither is charged with the crime, but small-town suspicion is enough to ruin Eddy’s life, and Delray never quite recovers, either. The tragedy ripples outward to envelop Eddy’s vulnerable daughter Krista and Delray’s son Aaron. Krista and Aaron each believe the other’s father is to blame, but a budding sexual energy between them complicates their emotions.

“Little Bird of Heaven” is quintessential Joyce Carol Oates: an expertly crafted, lovingly detailed character-driven novel of loss and longing. She is adept at getting into the skin of her characters and illustrating their motivations and desires, even when they aren’t fully understood by the characters themselves.

‘White Night Wedding’ (DVD)

It’s only a rehearsal and not the actual wedding, but if Jon’s (Hilmir Snfr Gupnason) performance as the groom — leaving his cell phone’s ringer on, taking a call during his vows, air-kissing his 18-years-his-junior bride (Margret Vilhjalmsdottir as Anna) — is any indication, maybe it’s best to call the whole thing off.

Actually, there are quite a few reasons to do that, and “White Night Wedding,” which originally appears to be yet another wacky wedding comedy in the making, isn’t afraid to dissect them frontward and backward as it strives instead to be something else completely.

“Wedding” weaves together two separate chronological threads of Jon’s life, dropping enticing allusions about the past in the present track before jumping back in time to fill in the blanks those teases create. As it typically does in any film that’s as mindful of its characters as it is its plot, the trick works. But “Wedding” takes it to its own special level because, even when the story enters darkly serious territory, the film’s quirky, hilarious side never completely extinguishes. By the time we’re all caught up in the present, the sum of all that comedy, tragedy and familiarity makes the sweet moments that much sweeter and the wacky antics that much more genuinely funny. The payoff at the end, a combination of all the moods that preceded it, could scarcely be more fitting or more pleasant. In Icelandic with English subtitles, but vastly worth the read.

‘Level 26: Dark Origins’ (Books)

Serial killers are categorized by levels 1-25. In Anthony Zuiker’s thriller series debut, “Level 26: Dark Origins,” there is one so vicious, the FBI has given him his own category.

No one knows the identity of the murderer known as Sqweegel, or how many people he has killed. He comes up with innovative ways to administer death and has an endless supply of resources to spy on anyone who tries to capture him.

FBI agent Steve Dark comes close to apprehending Sqweegel, who retaliates by killing Dark’s entire family. Dark abandons his search for Sqweegel and leaves law enforcement. But after a particularly grisly murder, a former colleague is dispatched by the secretary of defense to persuade Dark to resume his duties.

Zuiker, creator of the TV drama “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” provides a worthy debut, the first in a trilogy featuring Dark. He also offers an interactive supplement called “cyberbridges,” where the reader can log onto a Web site to view brief footage of 20 scenes meant to bridge chapters of the book. The story stands on its own without these clips, and viewing them may interfere with the reader’s interpretation of “Level 26."

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