BABY CAT-FACE by Barry Gifford. (Harcourt Brace: $20; 171 pp.) There are certain rock bands that seem to always sound exactly the same. They have one basic song they write again and again, changing the title and slightly varying lyrics and music. This is a perfectly fine thing if you like what they do. Additionally, there are certain writers who work under this same premise. After reading two and a half Barry Gifford novels (there are 15), many people will be able to predict not only what will happen in the remaining chapters of the one they are holding, but exactly what each character will be wearing as they bring about these plot twists.

Confused and disillusioned about the world, Esquerita Reyna, also known as "Baby Cat-Face," relinquishes herself to Mother Bizco's Temple of the Few Washed Pure by Her Blood. In spite of a stern temple dictum regarding sex, Baby Cat-Face becomes pregnant by Waldo Orchid, a kinky, obese man. Will Esquerita have the baby? What will Mother Bizco do? Those familiar with Gifford's work will instinctively know the answers.

A writer becomes stale when he or she no longer surprises her readers. It is almost as if the synapses between the words, the private energy that is unique to every writer, has, at least in Gifford's case, begun to feel a little prefab. Still, many people love Gifford's work. It would be interesting though to see him take a chance and try something he wasn't sure would work, something with a different instrument.

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