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Find more Booklist Editors' Choice
The Adult Books editors have selected the following titles as representative of the year’s outstanding books for public-library collections. Our scope has been intentionally broad, and we have attempted to find books that combine literary, intellectual, and aesthetic excellence with popular appeal.
Arts and Literature
Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses. HarperCollins, $26 (0-06-017590-7).
With her “sole focus on the sensual art of food and its effects on amorous performance,” this distinguished Latin American writer wanders delectably through the ways food arouses the senses, citing tales and truths, folklore and science, and drawing into her fascinating discussions such topics as the role of language in seduction and the need for physical touch.
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Putnam/ Riverhead, $35 (1-57322-120-1).
The provocative thesis of Bloom’s reading of Shakespeare is that when he invested the characters of his dramas with psychological depth, complexity, and individuality, he also invented the modern concept of personality.
Elkins, James. What Painting Is: How to Think about Oil Painting, Using the Language of Alchemy. Routledge, $25 (0-415-92113-9).
Like the alchemist, a painter enters the studio to mix and match substances in search of a recipe that will turn unpromising materia prima into the perfect painting. Elkins, a true alchemist of ideas, has conjured up an original and insightful book that will transform the reader’s understanding of painting.
Lopez, Barry. About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory. Knopf, $24 (0-679-43454-2).
Always curious about how we define our place in nature, Lopez writes with remarkable lucidity about everything from island culture in Japan, the Netherlands Antilles, and the Galápagos Islands to the air-freight industry and the art of landscape photograpy.
Tsujimoto, Karen and Baas, Jacquelyn. The Art of Joan Brown. Univ. of California, $60 (0-520-21468-4); paper, $24.95 (0-520-21469-2).
This is the first book on California artist Brown, and it is a beautifully illustrated, well-written, and sensitive portrait of a profoundly introspective painter who followed her muse so deeply into her own psyche that she reached truly cosmic dimensions.
Ackroyd, Peter. The Life of Thomas More. Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, $30 (0-385-47709-0).
The Catholic Church made Thomas More a saint. Ackroyd makes him a man—with all the paradoxes, ironies, and complexities that morality entails. This indispensable biography unfolds the fabric of More’s life, from baptism to beheading, as a Renaissance tapestry, richly colored, intricately woven.
Davis, Linda H. Badge of Courage. The Life of Stephen Crane. Houghton, $35 (0-89919-934-8).
Granted access to Crane’s newly available letters, adept biographer Davis brings the adventurous and radically creative writer vividly to life in this groundbreaking, eloquent, and sympathetic portrait of an influential maverick.
Debré, Patrice. Louis Pasteur. Tr. by Elborg Forster. Johns Hopkins, $39.95 (0-8018-5808-9).
This masterful biography, deftly rendered into English, offers the most complete portrait yet of a multifaceted genius. Debré’s training as an immunologist enables him to trace the improbable evolution of Louis Pasteur from a chemist studying crystals into a microbiologist revolutionizing medicine.
Dyer, Geoff. Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence. Farrar, $23 (0-86547-533-4).
Dyer is a disarming writer who embarks in hot pursuit of D. H. Lawrence, grousing all the way as he travels to the places the peripatetic writer himself felt compelled to seek out. Full of accusations, procrastination, misgiving, misadventure, and devilish soliloquies, the book that results is both a journey into the unknown and a very good biography of D. H. Lawrence.
Gallagher, Tag. The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini. Da Capo, $24.50 (0-306-80873-0).
Gallagher’s critical biography of the master of Italian neorealism sifts through the myths and rumors of Rossellini’s personal life with a loving but critical eye. The portrait that emerges reveals not only a great artist but also something of a con man—an adventurer who loved women, movies, and Ferraris.
Gibson, Ian. The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí. Norton, $45 (0-394-04624-9).
Gibson has written a breathtakingly comprehensive narrative of Dalí’s life as an inspired artist and an uninhibited exhibitionist. Both roles, Gibson argues, stem from a profound sense of “shame”—of sex, desire, and unconsummated love—that haunted Dalí’s creative personality and also gave birth to his outrageous persona. Proving his case with support from Dalí’s writing, Gibson gives us a surreal ride that cleans up a great painter’s act.
Goldsmith, Barbara. Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull. Knopf, $30 (0-394-55536-8).
Goldsmith has parlayed her pioneering study of the fascinating life of spiritualist and feminist Victoria Woodhull into an illuminating, tremendously entertaining analysis of the social movements and high-profile scandals and court cases of the Civil War era.
Johnson, Greg. Invisible Writer: A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates. Dutton, $27.50 (0-525-94163-0).
The obvious question to be answered about this prolific writer is, How does Joyce Carol Oates find the time and energy to produce so many books? However, the question that is answered in this well-researched biography is why Oates feels compelled to write so much. As Johnson explores all the paradoxes Oates represents, he also documents her life story.
Lewis, John and D’Orso, Michael. Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. Simon & Schuster, $25 (0-684-81065-4).
This vivid memoir from Representative Lewis (D-GA) stresses the intimate involvement of African American churches and clergy in every phase of the civil rights movement throughout the ’60s. In powerful, eloquent prose that also evokes the influence of church rhetoric, Lewis describes his years as head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, including his rift with black-power advocates over his vision of a multiracial “Beloved Community” in 1966. A thoughtful, illuminating “insider” history of the movement and its aftermath. (xTop of the List—Adult Nonfiction.x)
Motion, Andrew. Keats. Farrar, $35 (0-374-18100-4).
Motion emphasizes that Keats was no otherworldly creature of exquisite sensibilities but a man whose liberal politics and commitment to medicine animated his aesthetics and enlightened his poetry.
Rayfield, Donald. Anton Chekhov. Holt, $35 (0-8050-5747-1).
As beloved as Chekhov’s work is, only the broadest outlines of his life were known until sealed archives were opened and Rayfield went to work, revealing the great mesh of contradictions that both inspired and bedeviled one of the masters of psychological drama.
Remnick, David. King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero. Random, $25 (0-373-50065-0).
In this fresh and compelling account of Muhammad Ali’s early career, Remnick captures what has eluded a host of other starstruck writers: a balanced mix of the myth and reality of Ali and a sense of how the gestalt of a nation in transition happened to land on the impressive brown shoulders of a cocky young man from Louisville.
Spurling, Hilary. The Unknown Matisse: A Life of Henri Matisse, v.1, 1869–1908. Knopf, $40 (0-679-43428-3).
In the opening volume of her magisterial biography of Matisse, Spurling paints a vivid picture of the artist’s lean early years, long before his canonization as master of the modernist movement. Readers will surely want to know more from Spurling about the artist who dedicated his life to creating a pure art for the enjoyment of all.
Theroux, Paul. Sir Vidia’s Shadow: A Friendship across Five Continents. Houghton, $24 (0-395-90728-4).
In a controversial book that recently had the literary world buzzing, novelist Theroux paints a not particularly pleasant portrait of his former best friend, the even more distinguished novelist V. S. Naipaul. They maintained a 30-year friendship until they had a falling out over a petty situation, and Theroux’s gripping account of their relationship captures the emotions that bring friends together and the mean-spiritedness that drives them apart.
Williams, Juan. Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary. Times, $30 (0-8129-2028-7).
Williams presents Marshall as a revolutionary “of grand vision,” but this well-rounded portrait of the man also addresses his vanities and warts, from his ascension to his deflation and subsequent redemption. This is a must-read for all Americans concerned with the struggle for civil and individual rights.
Wilson, Charis and Madar, Wendy. Through Another Lens: My Years with Edward Weston. Farrar/North Point, $40 (0-86547-521-0).
Wilson was lover, amanuensis, driver, record keeper, and occasional ghostwriter for the great photographer until his age and her diverging interests parted them. Their life together is the stuff of which great movies are made.
Anthony, Carl Sferrazza. Florence Harding: The First Lady, the Jazz Age, and the Death of America’s Most Scandalous President. Morrow, $30 (0-688-07794-3).
In this riveting, defining biography of the indefatigable spouse of the twenty-ninth president, Anthony paints Florence Harding in vibrant detail as a groundbreaking presidential wife who set the stage for later activist First Ladies, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Astor, Gerald. The Right to Fight: A History of African Americans in the Military. Presidio, $29.95 (0-89141-632-3).
Oral historian Astor brings the soldier’s perspective to the fore in this gripping chronicle of African Americans in the U.S. armed forces, focusing in particular on the last 80 years, when the military became fully integrated.
Ball, Edward. Slaves in the Family. Farrar, $30 (0-374-26582-8.
Ball conceived the idea of recounting the family histories of his plantation-owning ancestors and, with more difficulty, due to the paucity of records, the people they owned. The resulting microcosm of America’s original sin of slavery is an innovative package of historical narrative, oral history, and modern reconciliation. This is an informative, ruminative, and inspirational page-turner.
Burrows, Edwin G. and Wallace, Mike. Gotham: A History of New York to 1898. Oxford, $49.95 (0-19-511534-8).
This Proustian effort, the result of 20 years of research, concludes with the consolidation of the modern city. All the familiar characters, from Petrus Stuyvesant to J. P. Morgan, appear, although the authors also describe great women and lesser lights whose actions had profound influence in and beyond the city. It is a strategy that serves them well as they reveal the changing moods of the people and the effects of technological advances on all strata of New York society.
Ellis, Richard. Imagining Atlantis. Knopf, $27.50 (0-679-44602-8).
Ellis, an eloquent historian of the sea, chronicles the rarely examined history of the dream of Atlantis, a centuries-long quest for evidence of the existence of a lost continent that has involved philosophers, historians, scientists, and mystics alike and that still holds sway over our collective unconscious.
Halberstam, David. The Children. Random, $29.95 (0-679-41561-0).
A sterling example of the genre that Halberstam has made his own: collective biography. Focusing on the early years of the civil rights movement, Halberstam examines the efforts of a group of young people who learned Gandhian civil disobedience from Nashville minister James Lawson. A remarkable, close-up view of a landmark time in American history.
Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. Houghton, $26 (0-395-75924-2).
The intersection of the boundless egos of explorer Henry M. Stanley and King Leopold II of Belgium resulted in the colonizing of the Congo region of Africa and a period of torture and mass murders to rival the Holocaust. Hochschild’s impressively researched history of this long-forgotten drama records the roles of the famous and the obscure, including missionaries, a journalist, an opportunist, politicians, and royalty.
Johnson, Paul. A History of the American People. HarperCollins, $35 (0-06-016836-6)
Perhaps the most readable of contemporary popular historians, Johnson offers a superbly argued interpretation of what it means to be “characteristically American.” Whether underscoring the injustices attending the creation of the U.S. or admiring aspects of its democratic, constitutional achievement, Johnson’s narrative is both instructive and a pleasure to read.
Lukacs, John. A Thread of Years. Yale, $35 (0-300-07188-4).
In vignettes dated from 1901 to 1969, Lukacs’ imaginative interpretive history portrays the death of Western civilization in the declining fortunes of a panoply of fictional Europeans and North Americans.
Reader, John. Africa: A Biography of the Continent. Knopf, $35 (0-679-40979-3).
From the making of Africa to the travails of its peoples, this massive study brings meaning to a history made furious by the dynamics of imperialism, slavery, and European retreat. A biography of Africa must cover a lot of territory, and Reader does just that in this thoroughly engaging, informative, and rigorous treatment of a daunting but crucially important subject.
Starr, Douglas. Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce. Knopf, $27.50 (0-679-41875-X).
Ever since doctors stopped bleeding and started transfusing their patients to cure them, blood has been a most valuable commodity, one whose scientific and commercial history, Starr shows, is rife with appalling greed and sterling altruism.
Traxel, David. 1898: The Birth of the American Century. Knopf, $28.95 (0-679-45467-5).
The year 1898 was pivotal in U.S. history, and Traxel brings it to life in a dynamic narrative of that milestone 12-month period—the year the U.S. fought a war with Spain and gained entry onto the stage of world powers.
Wilson, Douglas L. Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln. Knopf, $30 (0-679-40788-X).
Wilson poses a fascinating question: What enabled Lincoln, born and raised in the backwoods, to arrive in town as a young man and develop a certain sophistication in a relatively short time? Wilson deftly anwers his own question, rendering this a deeply revealing picture of Lincoln’s makeup.
From Both Sides Now: The Poetry of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath. Ed. by Philip Mahony. Scribner, $30 (0-684-84946-1).
Gathering the poetic testimonies of American and Vietnamese soldiers and war protesters, combatants and civilians, and their elders and children, editor Mahony adds a volume of Tolstoyan sweep and power to the literature of the war the U.S. lost.
Merwin, W. S. The Folding Cliffs: A Narrative. Knopf, $25 (0-375-40148-2).
Merwin has revived a long-dormant form and crafted a remarkably sensuous and dramatic book-length poem encompassing the entire tragic history of Hawaii, a vulnerable group of islands violated by invaders who brought discord, prejudice, disease, and alien plants and animals to a place that was as close to perfect as a land can be.
Raymo, Chet. Skeptics and Believers: The Exhilarating Connection between Science and Religion. Walker, $22 (0-8027-1338-6).
Skeptics and true believers need not be eternally at odds, Raymo contends in this eloquent plea for a melding of science and religion. Writing effectively for the general reader, Raymo persuasively argues that we must overcome our fear and loathing of science in order to create a new set of beliefs uniting the revelations of both the tangible world and the soul.
Wilson, Edward O. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. Knopf, $26 (0-679-45077-7).
In a masterpiece of the philosophy of science, the father of sociobiology argues that explanations of the phenomena of biology, geology, and physics and those of art, religion, and ethics will be found to resemble and to be consistent with each other. That is, there is one way of knowing and one kind of knowledge.
Eisenberg, Evan. The Ecology of Eden. Knopf, $30 (0-394-57750-7).
Versed in classical literature, philosophy, and biology, Eisenberg adeptly explores the origins and implications of the myth of a lost paradise in an arresting narrative that embraces everything from biblical interpretation to musings on wilderness, agriculture, bacteria, chaos theory, and jazz.
Naipaul, V. S. Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples. Random, $27.50 (0-375-50118-5).
Traveling in the non-Arabic Islamic countries of Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, and Malaysia, Naipaul examines the dynamics of Islam. In this follow-up to Among the Believers (1981), Naipaul is more dispassionate, letting the people he meets take center stage as they express their struggles with family, religion, and nation.
Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk about Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Freedom. Ed. by Ira Berlin and others. New Press, $49.95 (1-56584-425-4).
This collection brings forth, through both sight and sound (Remembering is a book-and-tape set), the poignant voices of people who had been slaves. These affecting interviews were conducted by the Federal Writers Project in the early 1930s and left to languish in the Library of Congress for generations, until rescued by the New Press.
Appachana, Anjana. Listening Now. Random, $25 (0-679-45215-X).
This compelling and tragic tale of love and deception explores life among a group of Indian women. Families are cursed, lives ruined, and relationships redeemed as the main character, Padma, and the other women in her life struggle with the relentless demands of parents, husbands, children, and in-laws.
Banks, Russell. Cloudsplitter. HarperCollins, $27.50 (0-06-016860-9).
Banks’ opus, arguably his best novel, reaches deeply into the life of infamous abolitionist John Brown, a story that is told through the memories of Brown’s third son, Owen. What this conceit dramatically reveals is how Brown brought up his children to be his followers; in the process, the reader comes to see that Brown is less a madman than an ardent self-believer.
Bonnie, Fred. Detecting Metal. Livingston, $19.95 (0-942979-54-0); paper, $9.95 (0-942979-53-2).
Each of these dozen stories is dedicated to a master of the form. With lifelike working-class characters, engaging plots, pitch-perfect dialogue, and plenty of serious optimism, Bonnie shows he is the peer of his dedicatees.
Byers, Michael. The Coast of Good Intentions. Houghton/Mariner, paper, $12 (0-395-89170-1).
In this astonishing debut collection, Byers’ characters progress slowly, haltingly, through small but authentic epiphanies toward better lives, or at least toward an appreciation and acceptance of the lives they have. These powerful, affecting stories, set in the Pacific Northwest, are wise and true and should not be missed.
Danticat, Edwidge. The Farming of Bones. Soho; dist. by Farrar, $23 (1-56947-126-6).
In a novel of pure and solemn beauty, Danticat, a magnetic and quietly passionate storyteller, evokes the emotional devastation wrought by a little-known act of “ethnic cleansing” perpetrated in 1937 by Trujillo, the Dominican Republic’s savage dictator.
Hamilton, Jane. The Short History of a Prince. Random, $23 (0-679-45755-0).
Writing from a deep understanding of midwestern family life, Hamilton—more insightful and enchanting then ever—tells the involving story of Walter McCloud, a gay dancer turned teacher who exemplifies the grace of humor, generosity, tolerance, and unconventional love.
Harrison, Jim. The Road Home. Atlantic Monthly; dist. by Publishers Group West, $25 (0-87113-724-0).
Five members of the extended Northridge family narrate Harrison’s first novel since Dalva (1988). Their disparate voices reveal that each has been driven through life by private, occasionally overlapping issues, yet all the narratives show that the journey and the arrival can be of equal importance. Laced with social criticism, the novel belongs among the major works of U.S. literature.
Irving, John. A Widow for One Year. Random, $27.95 (0-375-51137-1).
Ruth Cole bears emotional scars that are the impetus behind her writing career. Irving’s narrative is divided into three parts, each of which limns a pivotal period in Ruth’s history. Irving’s masterfully conceived and constructed novel is simply a joy to read.
Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible. HarperFlamingo, $26 (0-06-099538-6).
In her most significant novel to date, a resounding, brilliantly executed tale of family, faith, hubris, and fate, Kingsolver dramatizes the complex experiences of a white missionary family from the American South in a tiny village in the Congo during the 1959 revolution against colonial rule.
McCann, Colum. This Side of Brightness. Holt/Metropolitan, $23 (0-8050-5452-9).
Somewhere under the East River in New York, “sandhogs” labor through muck and darkness to build a transit system for a fledgling metropolis. Their bond is cemented in a way they could not have dreamed when a small hole in the tunnel wall results in a spectacular river blowout. McCann is a fine and bold writer who tackles the peculiar, unexplored, and violent nexus between the downtrodden and persecuted in a flawed promised land.
McCarthy, Cormac. Cities of the Plain. Knopf, $24 (0-679-42390-7).
Cities is the last novel in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, preceded by All the Pretty Horses (1992) and The Crossing (1994). This book has the kind of rugged protagonists men will identify with, yet it also fairly shimmers with the kind of man’s talk that women find amusing. A beautiful and logical conclusion to a powerful trilogy.
McDermott, Alice. Charming Billy. Farrar, $21 (0-374-12080-3).
McDermott’s latest novel is set in a close-knit Irish American neighborhood and takes place between the end of World War II and the present. Billy Lynch’s friends and family have gathered to mourn him. The narrator of the story, Billy’s oldest friend’s daughter, reflects on the mysteries of love and fate and the terrible result of lies told to spare a friend pain. Issues of faith and the possibility of change are at the heart of this very thoughtful and finely constructed work.
Minot, Susan. Evening. Knopf, $23 (0-375-40037-0).
As Boston matriarch Ann Lord lies dying, the memory that blazes most brightly in her mind is that of a summer weekend 40 years ago when she found and lost the one true love of her life in a veritable storm of sensuality, transgression, and tragedy, all rendered indelible in Minot’s exquisite prose.
Moore, Lorrie. Birds of America. Knopf, $23 (0-679-44597-8).
Moore’s wit is at its magical best in her short stories, and her new collection is breathtakingly funny, acutely observant, and slyly poignant. Moore nimbly illuminates the nature of ardor and cracks the code of even the most confounding relationships.
Nunez, Elizabeth. Beyond the Limbo Silence. Seal; dist. by Publishers Group West, $24 (1-58005-017-4); paper, $12 (1-58005-013-1).
Sara leaves Trinidad to go to college in Wisconsin, where she meets two other black immigrants, and the three outsiders learn the painful lessons of race relations in the U.S. in 1963. This is a beautifully delineated novel, with elements of magic and fable, about a storied time.
Pears, Iain. An Instance of the Fingerpost. Putnam/Riverhead, $27 (1-57322-082-5).
Oxford in the 1660s: Charles II has been restored to the throne, but the wounds of the Cromwell era are still festering. Into this historical cauldron, Pears adds murder, concocting in the process a compelling, multidimensional tale of politics and passion, science and sex, religion and revenge.
Powell, Patricia. The Pagoda. Knopf, $23 (0-679-45489-6).
Lowe, proprietor of a modest grocery store, finds his life unraveling when the shop is burned to the ground. Initially disconsolate over the tragedy, Lowe begins to face the many losses incurred over the years—the loss of identity, language, and child. Jamaican-born Powell is an author of exceptional artistry and insight whose writing is extremely rich in sensual imagery.
Price, Reynolds. Roxanna Slade. Scribner, $40 (0-684-83292-5).
Roxanna Slade tells her life story in her own precise and feisty voice. Although she has not led an outwardly distinguished life, she recalls her more than nine decades on the earth with great feeling. Once again, one comes away from a Price novel with great respect for his ability to fashion full and credible characters and tell their quietly heroic stories with great empathy.
Price, Richard. Freedomland. Broadway, $25 (0-7679002-4-3).
Price takes dead aim on the mean streets of New York in this story of the political firestorm that erupts when a young white woman claims her car was hijacked, with her infant son inside, by a black man. A sorrowful, layered portrait.
Ríos, Julián. Loves That Bind. Tr. by Edith Grossman. Knopf, $24 (0-375-40058-3).
This inventive yet sweet novel by one of Europe’s most imaginative and playful novelists engages first the mind and eventually the heart. The poor, bedraggled narrator, Emil, compares the women who have abandoned him to various literary heartbreakers and in the process memorializes and humanizes his own lost loves. Cerebral stuff but also passionate.
Roth, Philip. I Married a Communist. Houghton, $26 (0-385-93346-3).
The famous radio performer Ira Ringold was a Communist in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and that was a hazardous card to carry in a vicious, Red-baiting era. Roth luxuriates in wordplay and circuitous storytelling, but his beautiful prose exquisitely achieves his purpose of illuminating every fiber of the fascinating Ira as well as the social and political atmosphere of the post–World War II period.
Saramago, José. Blindness. Tr. by Giovanni Portiero. Harcourt, $22 (0-15-100251-7).
Nobel Prize winner Saramago deftly shows how vulnerable humans are, how connected, and how blind. His book is less an allegory than a mature writer’s inspired characterization of human nature.
Schwartz, John Burnham. Reservation Road. Knopf, $24 (0-375-40263-2).
Schwartz reminds us of two maxims—there is nothing more tragic than losing a child, and there are two sides to every story—in his spellbinding tale of two fathers, the one who lost his gifted young boy in a hit-and-run accident and the one who collided with the boy and then, in a moment of sheer panic, sped away.
Selby, Hubert. The Willow Tree. Marion Boyars; dist. by InBook, $25.95 (0-7145-3024-7).
An old man, a Holocaust survivor, finds a 13-year-old African American boy beaten almost to death on New York’s tough streets and nurses him back to health physically and eventually spiritually. An expressionist-naturalist tour de force of language and emotion.
Stone, Robert. Damascus Gate. Houghton, $26 (0-395-66569-8).
This sweeping, multidimensional novel concerns a plot by Christian fundamentalists and Jewish radicals to blow up the mosques on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. The heart of the book, though, lies in its characters’ tormented inner lives, as a handful of Jews, Christians, and Arabs struggle with the idea of God and the nature of belief. A compelling novel of ideas and passions. (xTop of the List winner—Adult Fiction. x)
Updike, John. Bech at Bay. Knopf, $23 (0-375-40368-X).
In the third book about Jewish writer Henry Bech, Updike follows his hero’s continuing attempts to muddle through an uncooperative world. The ever-put-upon Bech is portrayed here in all his frayed grandeur. Updike’s style is never more jubilantly elaborate than in a Bech book, and his intelligence never more provocatively displayed.
Welch, Robert. Groundwork. Blackstaff; dist. by Dufour, paper, $19.95 (0-85640-608-2).
This powerful Irish novel is literature of the first rank, fiction born of the clash between history and legend. The book’s ultimate power is derived from the chorus of narrative voices: most of the characters, like true Irish bards, step forward and tell stories of what shaped them as men and women and what connects them to the larger histories of their families and country.
Holt, $20 (0-8050-5577-0).
In this noir tale of a country boy with a nose for trouble and a rap sheet to match, Woodrell makes us see the poetry in the souls of beat-up Ozark rednecks, and he writes some of the funniest, most musical, most marvelously double-edged prose being written by anyone in any genre, high or low.
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