Discoveries: 'The People Who Watched Her Pass By' by Scott Bradfield

The People Who Watched Her Pass By

Scott Bradfield


Two Dollar Radio: 146 pp., $14.50

Salome Jensen is 3 years old and brilliant. She is also brave and unforgettable. One day, the guy who fixes the hot water heater takes her away from her family to live with him in a bungalow in Van Nuys. From the moment they pull away in his Volkswagen van, Salome calls him Daddy. "I care for you very much in my own special way, and not in any of those sick, perverted ways you hear about in tabloid television programs and newspapers. I care about you as a perfect, beautiful little child with a fresh perspective on this sorry world of ours." This is Salome's gift; even after Daddy drives away and she is left to live with Mrs. Anderson next door; after Mrs. Anderson, she is on her own. No one wants to call Child Services, thinking it will do more damage than good. When she does end up in their hands, it is the first time she is made to feel "unworthy and obvious," as they read her vital statistics to her. Salome lives in a world of goodness, which the bureaucrats are unable to understand. Scott Bradfield creates a country for the reader to wander through, holding Sal's hand, assuming goodness. When one slips back into adulthood, it is not clear who the victims are, the good guys and bad guys. It is clear that you love this little girl and hope with all your heart that she will find someplace safe. "I think of myself as Sal," she says, after the state has put her in a house and tells her she belongs there. "Sal who went away and came back. Sal who draws pictures on the kitchen table. Sal who sleeps in a small bed and isn't as affectionate as she should be. Sal who made the world hers until it didn't want her anymore."

American Music

Jane Mendelsohn

Alfred A. Knopf: 235 pp., $23.95

Milo has a kind of magic. Wounded in Iraq, he lies in a VA hospital. When his physical therapist, Honor, touches his broken back, both the patient and the healer experience hallucinations: of a eunuch and a courtesan in a sultan's court in 17th century Turkey; a photographer in the 1960s whose life's work is stolen; a husband and wife in the 1930s whose love is severely tested. These stories appear in all their glorious detail — bits of sparkling fabric, pieces of song, a whirling dance, a white sky and a black sea. Jane Mendelsohn captures them as you might in the glare of an old-fashioned flashbulb; a reader is left blinking, uncertain of what she has imagined. Milo and Honor fall in love (how could they not?). Love is the mirage they step into, leaving behind all kinds of wounds and stories. It is an aleph of a novel — a keyhole one looks into and cannot pull away from.

My First

New York

Early Adventures in the Big City

from the editors of New York Magazine

Ecco: 240 pp., $23.99

"New York," remembers

Yogi Berra

, who arrived there in 1946. "It was big." "I was bent on survival," says gossip columnist Liz Smith, arriving in 1949, who applied everywhere for a job and couldn't find one. "I couldn't even get arrested." "People wanted to go to clubs or parties," writes

Liza Minnelli

, who came to New York in 1961, "I just wanted to go to Sardi's but I didn't have a dime. I lived in some bell bottoms and a pea coat I bought from a place on Forty-Second Street." "I paid $150 a month for a raw loft on Greene Street," writes artist

Chuck Close

about the first place he had there in 1967. "The place had no heat." Something about these bits and pieces coheres. This is the mythical city, yes, the Big Apple, but these small, glittering essays make a reader feel that the sheer force of all these dreams, this persistence, might in fact rub off on you. It's pure romanticism, of course, for New York has its inhuman side. But for this brief interlude, these 240 pages, you can forget all about that and imagine the Emerald City. "One factor that tipped things in New York's favor," writes Nick Denton, an Internet publisher who moved there after Sept. 11, 2001, "was that New York had hotter guys."

Salter Reynolds is a writer living in Los Angeles.