MOVIES . . . LONE STAR: In life the past haunts us. In the movies it has become a throwaway line. No one seems to care anymore how characters reach the pretty pass in which the first reel finds them. No one seems to remember the power of history to grant coherence to chaotic experience. No one but John Sayles, that is. His Lone Star has become, in limited release, this summer1s movie of choice for grownups who still regard intricate narrative and careful characterization as the most treasurable of special effects, says TIME's Richard Schickel. There are no explosions here, just a skeleton unearthed from a shallow grave after a 30-year rest. Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper), sheriff in a Texas border town where even corruption proceeds at a somnolent pace, has reason to believe these to be the earthly remains of a sadistic and crooked predecessor, Charley Wade (Kris Kristofferson). He also guesses that his late father Buddy, who succeeded Charley as sheriff but is widely regarded as a saint, may have been Charley1s murderer. That would be all right with Sam, who's tired of swallowing invidious comparisons between his performance in office and his dad1s. Solving this long-ago crime is more pretext than text in this movie, says Schickel. For the silence of that grave symbolizes a larger and more conspiratorial silence afflicting Frontera. This had its uses at one time, especially as a way of muffling differences between its black, Hispanic and Anglo communities. Sayles wants us to understand that when we deny history we grant it a more disruptive power.
BOOKS . . . GOING DOWN: Before the onset of its Disneyfication, New York City1s Times Square boasted a grim-looking strip club that successfully distinguished itself from the area1s many other grim- looking strip clubs. In big pink letters on a white marquee, this establishment proudly alerted passersby that it featured live girls working their way through college. Patrons, presumably, found topless women who had taken the SATs to be more tantalizing than those who had not. That's the basis for Jennifer Belle's comic first novel, Going Down (Riverhead Books; $12; 254 pages), which chronicles a year in the life of a young woman who becomes a prostitute to pay her tuition at New York University. Right away we know we are in for humor of the zanily incongruous sort because Belle has given her heroine a some-of-my-best-friends-went-to-Exeter name: Bennington Bloom. Bennington is the daughter of a well-off math professor, which makes her job choice even more implausible. She is not so much a hooker with a heart of gold as she is a hooker with nerves of creme brulee, says TIME's Ginia Bellafante. She is comically neurotic -- her heels and condoms are always spilling out of her book bag -- and prone to ulcers and indigestion. Belle is an exceptionally funny writer, but Bellafante says it1s hard to get past the fact that she never gives us a believable reason for Bennington1s particular work-study program.