In the introduction to this half-baked debut novel, Robert Mailer Anderson swears that the town he grew up in, Boonville, is as crazy as his novel, Boonville, suggests. "There's no way to accurately portray this place," writes Mailer. "Nobody would believe the truth. It's too violent and weird." Clearly Anderson felt the need to protect his readers from all that, and so through the power of writing has transformed his hometown from a violent, depressing hellhole to a crrrazy fast-paced logging wonderland where anything goes. He should have stuck to the truth.

Anderson's claim that Boonville has a demographic blend of tobacco-chewin' rednecks and drug-dealing Californian hippies is perfectly believable. His portrayals of those characters, however, ring false. His loggers are typical beer-swillin' hicks. Each one is imbued with a stock hick cliche. One speaks in quirky local slang; another beats the death out of anyone even looking at his girl; and so on. It's a lame way to develop character, though it seems downright Shakespearean compared to the language Anderson uses on his hippies. The feminists are the kind of nightmarish man-haters that only a writer who doesn't actually know any feminists would create. They say things, unsolicited, like, "I am an instrument in the shape of a woman trying to translate pulsations into images for the relief of the body and the reconstruction of the mind." The druggies are just as bad; they try to get their teenage daughters to do drugs with them and listen to Janis Joplin ad nauseum.

All these stereotypes would be almost forgivable if Anderson's storyline surrounding them was interesting, but it isn't. It follows the saga of John Gibson as, sparked by his hippie grandmother's death, he moves from his comfortable marketing job in Miami to Boonville. Within days of arriving in town, John is hungover, in love, beaten up, dealing drugs, and frantically putting together an incredibly stupid art project to put a cap on his early-mid-life transformation.

Anderson describes this predictably wacky story with the panache of an instruction manual, and peppers it with philosophical "insights" that were cutting-edge 20 years ago. While at an abortion clinic, Anderson's female protagonist, Sarah, ponders the pro-life protestors: "People who believed in Sodom and Gomorrah, Adam and Eve, and Jonah being swallowed by a whale were capable of anything. Except logical thought." In this book, such an obvious assessment of religious extremism is as subtle as it gets. JUSTIN SANDERS

False Positive opens another front in Harold Jaffe's ongoing assault against the dominant "impious" impulses of mainstream fiction. For nearly a quarter century, Jaffe has used the familiar faces of contemporary culture--politicians, celebrities, athletes and rock stars--as narrative sock puppets through which he can speak to the seamy underbelly of our millennial living. The numbing of sexuality, abuse of technology, media misinformation, and commodification of art are constantly refreshing sources for Jaffe's ire.

As in his previous collections, Madonna and Other Spectacles (1988), Eros Anti-Eros (1990) and Sex for the Millennium (1999), the subjects of Jaffe's self-described "extreme fictions" aren't entirely fictional. False Positive's fifteen fictions are actual news stories recontextualized by Jaffe in ways that leave both reader and text ravaged. Here, we find the disembodied voices of Columbine killer-wannabes; the bizarre methodologies of an "agro-terrorist" who builds a biological weapon made from the scrapings of hoof-and-mouth disease-afflicted cattle; the sad lamentations of a man whose unbearable skin irritations cause him to literally scratch himself to death; and a dialogue involving a man who cuts off his left hand (because he thought it was possessed by the devil) and then sues the hospital staff for reattaching it.

Jaffe's agenda reaches far beyond clichés of truth being stranger than fiction, discovering those slipstreams where truth and fiction are united in equally exciting and disturbing ways. In the current vogue of war-mongering and civil liberties-squashing in this country, it's refreshing--if not downright ballsy--to see the United States' foremost literary terrorist strapping up once again. TREVOR DODGE