We don't blame you for skipping past the display of authors' first novels at your favorite bookstore. (At least until our first novel is published, that is.) How many more stories of suburban angst and twentysomething ennui can we expect you to read? However, before you move on to the display of Chasing Liberty tie-in literature, take a look at Jennifer Haigh's ambitious first novel, Mrs. Kimble. Better yet, head to Left Bank Books (399 North Euclid Avenue, 314-367-6731, free) at 7 p.m. and listen to Haigh, a graduate of the acclaimed Iowa Writers' Workshop, read from her book.
The eponymous heroine of Haigh's novel isn't one but three women, the successive wives of minister-turned-real-estate mogul Ken Kimble. Haigh does a brilliant job of showing how three very different women, over 25 years, could fall in love with -- and stay with -- a man whose background is sketchy, to say the least. Haigh's prose is simple in the best sense: fluid and, when it has to be, brutally honest. Particularly memorable is a Thanksgiving "family reunion" that will make you regret every bad thing you ever said about the dry turkey and drier conversation at your in-laws'. -- Ian Froeb
Good times for all in Florissant
An 87-year-old man, played by John Amos from TV's Good Times, who has conversations with a comet: We're not making this up -- Amos is. For more than a decade, the actor has starred in Halley's Comet, a one-man show of his own creation in which he appears as a snowy-haired octogenarian. He relates how he saw the comet as a boy, and now, 76 years later, he wants to tell the returning comet about the crazy changes that he and the world have seen. This dyn-o-mite concept, partially cribbed from the life of Mark Twain, includes a lot of jokes about growing older, a tear-jerking monologue or two and even a sly reference to the actor's own work in Roots (8 p.m., $20 to $22, Florissant Civic Center, Parker Road at Waterford Drive, 314-921-5678). -- Byron Kerman
Death & Hydeware
Those kids at Hydeware Theatre just love to turn up the intensity. Their recent production of Edward Albee's classic one-act The Zoo Story ended in a bizarre stunt: There was no well-defined ending to the dramatic experience, so audience members weren't sure when to leave. Instead, they sat in silence for five minutes while an actor leaked fake blood all over the floor (that wasn't in Albee's script either, by the way). Finally, someone in the audience stood up and left, and everyone else followed suit.
For this week's production of Ariel Dorfman's harrowing Death and the Maiden, though, they're playing it straight. The suspenseful drama, about a Chilean torture victim turning the tables on the man whom she thinks was her torturer, has more than enough intensity to go around. Hydeware is also comparing Maiden's setting, a dictatorship that may or may not become a democracy, to contemporary Iraq (8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, January 23 through 31; Soulard Theatre, 1921 South Ninth Street; $10 to $12; 314-368-7306; www.hydewaretheatre.com). -- Byron Kerman
Lord of the Dance
It's the edgy modern-dance event of the year! If American Stephen Petronio can shake up Europe and Mexico, he can certainly zap St. Louis. See him performing solo and as part of two other works, one a riot of action in a clever NYC-inspired piece, set to music by genius Laurie Anderson. Get to Washington University's Edison Theatre (Forsyth at Skinker boulevards) at 8 p.m. Friday, January 23, or Saturday, January 24, or at 2 p.m. Sunday, January 25. Tickets are $23 to $28 (314-534-1111). -- Regina Popper