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Book review: Picara by Pat MacEnulty 

Picara by Pat MacEnulty (Livingston Press, 290 pages, $16.95 paper, $27 hardback). For my money, Pat MacEnulty is the most interesting novelist in Charlotte. The fact that she's also a playwright, essayist and poet doesn't hurt, either. MacEnulty, who teaches at Johnson & Wales U., writes stories about people who lead noisy lives streaked with sorrows, jarring changes and, often, crime. Her tales are tightly plotted and her characters richly developed, often comprising people who've either suffered or are suffering, or both, but who are forever seeking a way to transcend what others might consider cool, "edgy" situations.

Picara is about a 14-year-old girl, Eli Burnes, who, in the early 1970s, takes her life by the horns when her living situation (raised by a step-grandmother after her alkie mom leaves) implodes. She runs away with a draft-dodging friend, but when that adventure goes south, she heads off to stay with her father, Willie. He's a disc jockey and an anti-war activist who has his own, new family. She becomes intimately familiar with all the habits of that era, and more unraveling occurs, tempered by Eli's growing maturity.

As a writer, I'm envious of MacEnulty's talent for using a straightforward style to give a rounded picture of complex situations and emotions, such as the changes Eli navigates with her dad. Picara is a quick, but satisfying, read -- something of great value in these days of cutesy or pretentious, overly long books -- that showcases one of the author's real strengths: the knack for bringing "ordinary people" to full, 3-D life, and making them as interesting as most ordinary people really are once you get to know them.

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