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Victor LaValle doesn’t care for quotation marks. Dashes indicate when his characters speak—that is, when there’s any proper notation at all for who’s talking. His style is risky, especially for a young writer, because it demands an extra bit of work on the part of the reader to keep the narrative together. On top of this, LaValle’s characters speak in the particularly stylized urban patois of kids from Queens and the Bronx—verbal shorthand and references that assume a certain level of hipness on the part of the reader. And on top of even that, many of the narrators in LaValle’s 1999 short story collection Slapboxing With Jesus, as well as his new novel, The Ecstatic, are beset by various demons or are, frankly, a bit nuts. But against all these odds, LaValle’s unerring ear for dialogue makes his tales riveting and funny, quickly drawing the reader in and carrying him along to unexpected destinations. Listen closely as LaValle reads from his work at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 24, at American University’s Butler Pavilion Board Room, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Free. (202) 885-2973. (Dave Nuttycombe)