Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Summer Pickings

By Leonard Gill

JUNE 8, 1998:  The kind of books women readers hoard for vacation” is how Viking is short-selling the novels of Joanna Trollope. Viking’s mission? To turn Trollope, already a “#1 bestseller in England” according to its summer catalog, into a “household name” on these shores. The Best of Friends, in which two marriages are brought to “the brink of betrayal,” sounds like the stuff of soap opera but in Trollope’s hands most probably is not.

For the kind of book men (apparently not women) hoard for vacation, see Sunset Limited (Doubleday) by mystery-meister James Lee Burke, or The Overseer (Crown) by newcomer Jonathan Rabb. The former features a female photojournalist “drawn to controversial subjects” and in this book, she’s found one: the unsolved matter of her father’s crucifixion (yes, crucifixion) in Louisiana 40 years ago. Rabb’s debut thriller stars a “beautiful but troubled government agent” on the trail of a 16th-century Swiss monk’s evil blueprint for world domination (yes, world domination). So dangerous was the monk that the pope had him murdered, but his manuscript survives and falls into some very wrong hands. Only the agent and a brilliant political theorist from Columbia University can save the world from “air traffic control screens going blank, bombs exploding at the National Gallery, and a grain market teetering on the verge of collapse.” In short, global chaos. Rabb, by the way, is a political theorist with a master’s from Columbia University.

Unwilling, unable to spring for a hardback this summer (and particularly the three just described)? Look for these best-selling and deserving award-winners in paperback now or soon – Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize winner, The God of Small Things (HarperCollins), John Banville’s The Untouchable (Vintage), Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes (Scribner), and Cold Mountain (Vintage) by National Book Award winner Charles Frazier.

Expect a fresh slant on Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha County this August in Edouard Glissant’s Faulkner, Mississippi (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Glissant, a West Indian writer considered one of the fathers of modern Caribbean literature, visited Oxford in 1992, which in turn prompted this reappraisal of Faulkner’s work and the workings of race. Expect another reappraisal the same month in David Lehman’s The Last Avant Garde: The Poets of the New York School and the Dynamics of Creativity (Doubleday). John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler are the poets, Jane Freilicher, Larry Rivers, and Fairfield Porter are among the painters, but the chief character promises to be Greenwich Village, circa 1951. Michael Kimmelman, art critic for The New York Times, takes Cezanne’s dictum that “one can only speak properly about paintings in front of paintings” and in Portraits (Random House) tours the world’s great art with great artists: Lucian Freud inside London’s National Gallery, Cartier-Bresson inside the Louvre, Brice Marden inside the Met.

On the political front this summer, you can revisit the sites of the civil-rights struggle guided by John Lewis, the highest-ranking black elected official in the country and eyewitness to that struggle, in his Walking with the Wind (Simon & Schuster), or join pioneer Constance Baker Motley in her own fight for the rights of blacks and women in the memoir Equal Justice Under Law (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), or review the setbacks and gains of gays and lesbians in 20th-century America in Molly McGarry and Fred Wasserman’s pictorial history Becoming Visible (Penguin Studio).

Donna Shirley tells how her 30-year career as an aerospace engineer brought her to head the Mars rover project in Managing Martians (Broadway Books), and in The Uninvited (Overlook), Nick Pope starts out a skeptic and ends up a believer after investigating alien abductions for the British Ministry of Defense. If aliens are no myth, Sigmund Freud is, in editor Frederick Crews’ major debunking Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend (Viking). Is it sheer coincidence that this expose is scheduled for August, the very month analysts scram?

Time, then, for “nature’s most potent antidepressant” (the quote is again Viking’s): the beach. Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker trace our attachment to it in The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth (Viking), Jimmy Buffett reminisces in sight of it in The Pirate at Fifty (Random House), and Steven Gaines places a value on it in Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons (Little, Brown).

Sebastian Junger’s tale of men in boats, The Perfect Storm (HarperPerennial), is in paperback in June, and Steve Alten, who wrote last summer’s shark-fest, Meg, is back in July with Fathom (Doubleday), but Gaines’ insider look at inflated egos and property values on the east end of Long Island requires your attention now. The author of Simply Halston and Obsession, a creepy bio of Calvin Klein, closes Philistines with Lauren Bacall singing “God Bless America” and opens it with a real estate tycoon in the process of gagging. Forget the sand. Gaines has gone for the dirt.

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