Protagonist James Turner, Jr., has more to worry about than losing the security deposit on his first apartment after he takes home a serval that he won in a barroom dice game in the title story of T.C. Boyle's latest collection of stories, Tooth and Claw.
Young and insecure, Turner is intent on not becoming a hateful old drunk (like his dead father) in a coastal California town blighted by shopping malls, yet he wonders if he can ever find romance with sexy cocktail waitress Daria and escape the sad disorder of his life.
Turner's weird affinity with his bewildered, fearful cat allows him to overcome his anxiety and abandon society's rules. His behavior is typical of the characters who populate alien environments in the comically imaginative fictional realities created by Boyle, who will read from his new book tonight at 8:00 at Books & Books (265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables).
Many of his characters long to upgrade their social life, but nature's hazards undermine their efforts to get sex, sustain love, and secure a carefree, comfortable life. For others, like a dog lady in "Dogology" and a bird woman in "Swept Away," their fascination with animals overtakes their self-identity.
Boyle's exotic cats, stray dogs, ravenous alligators, poisonous toads, and killer mosquitoes threaten to consume the lives of losers, a primatologist, substance abusers, homeless alcoholics, divorcés, and Floridian retirees in the grim social reality and sometimes idyllic landscape of the other stories in which characters flee their own loneliness and civilization's constraints and rules.
The celebrated, intense, shaggy Southern California author is well-known for his showmanship at readings as well as the comic vision of his wiry storytelling. In his seventh story collection, he takes his cues from Tennyson's In Memoriam to explore nature's cruel tug of war with human self-awareness. Animals and humans alike show indifference to suffering and exhibit a predatory self-identity amid the mysterious unknowable chaos of nature and the stifling social order of civilization. Admission is free. Call 305-442-4408, or visit www.booksandbooks.com. --Robert Hicks
The origins of the step show can be traced back to African tribal dances, Masonic rituals, and army drill team routines. The stomping, rhythmic demonstrations of Greek identity were immortalized in Spike Lee's School Daze. At the first annual Miami Sol Invitational Step Show, members of the Divine Nine traditionally black fraternities and sororities will step in the name of college bragging rights.
"You have to find a way to set yourself apart; that's what will lead the team to victory," explains Kamilah Moss, of DreamPointeProductions, Inc. Moss, together with Dean Hooker of Jook Joint Entertainment, is organizing this show to give university props and to support a great cause. "I am a graduate of Florida Memorial, so I'm trying to give back to the school as much as I can and also give to Hurricane Katrina survivors," Hooker explains. A dollar from every admission will go to hurricane relief efforts. Step to Florida Memorial University's A. Chester Robinson Athletic Center, 15800 NW 42nd Ave., Miami. Tickets cost $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Showtime is at 6:30 p.m. Call 305-321-9999, or visit www.msiss.net. -- Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik
Calling All Karaoke Crooners
Come to your senses for the money
For lovers of quality entertainment, it should come as no surprise that the word karaoke comes from the Japanese karappo (meaning "empty," of course) and okesutura. Many people might not understand why the, ahem, "empty orchestra" is enjoyable to its loyal adherents, but karaoke singers find it so exhilarating they are willing to briefly leave their showers to show off their talents. For their benefit, and that of the public, they have the Karaoke World Championships to corral them into a few watering holes. Qualifying rounds will take place at three locations deep inside the Karaoke Quarter of Miami, but the best part is that the national winners get to visit beautiful Finland for the world championships. In September, Checho's Bar (10855 SW 72nd St., Miami; 305-598-1114) and Scully's Tavern (9909 SW 72nd St., Miami; 305-271-7404) will host several rounds, while Little Hoolie's (13135 SW 89th Pl., Miami) is hosting one tonight and others throughout October. Call 305-252-9155, or visit www.kwcusa.com. --Margaret Griffis
Floridian Time Travelers
Three hours at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida (101 W. Flagler St., Miami) will take you through two centuries of Florida history, from the Seminole wars to the advent of air conditioning, the tourism boom, and beyond. Tonight's "Celebrating Your Museum" is the free annual kick-off event for the season. Local historian/Miami Dade College professor Paul George will lead a tour of the museum's permanent exhibition. A second tour will feature life in nineteenth-century Florida, when the state was still a frontier, highlighted by a walk-through trading post that will help you imagine life almost 200 years ago. The night will also feature two live performances, including music by blues band Iko-Iko and Ife-Ile's Afro-Cuban dance show. Those who are more academically inclined can peruse the museum's research center, which features more than two million items, including old manuscripts, maps, photos, prints, and a host of other documents and images. Enjoy free hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar from 6:00 to 9:00. Call 305-375-1492, or visit www.historical-museum.org. -- Karen Dale Wolman