Contemporary Fiction | Summer Reading: Fiction and Poetry

Summer Reading 2002: Fiction and Poetry

Selections from The New York Times Book Review

June 2, 2002

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Antunes, Antsnio Lobo. The Return of the Caravels: A Novel; translated from the Portuguese by Gregory Rabassa. New York: Grove Press, 2002.
Regenstein Stacks
PQ9263.N77 N3813 2002
Portugal's history as an imperial power literally comes home in this novel of collective memory set in 1974; Vasco da Gama, Cabral and Francis Xavier are back in Lisbon, raising hell and anchoring their puny vessels alongside tankers.

Babel, Isaac. The Complete Works of Isaac Babel; edited by Nathalie Babel; translated with notes by Peter Constantine; introduction by Cynthia Ozick. New York: Norton, c2002.
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Harper Library
PG3476.B2 A23 2002
The total product of the marvelous writer who tried to create a synthesis of the Russian, the Jewish, the literary and the revolutionary, a mix that bestowed life on his fiction but could not save him from death on Stalin's orders in 1940.

Barrett, Andrea. Servants of the Map: Stories. New York: W.W. Norton, 2002.
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PS3552.A7327 S47 2002
A collection of stories complete in themselves but linked by threads of association or neighborhood or interest or family into a kind of imaginative collaboration that covers most of the last two centuries, always inhabited by characters who share a passionate interest in figuring out how things work.

Beattie, Ann. The Doctor's House: A Novel. New York: Scribner, c2002
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PS3552.E177 D63 2002
Does less of minimalism mean more of something else? Beattie's novel explores at some length, in a prose that owes much to the language of therapy, a fraught relationship between a 40-ish woman whose husband is dead and her brother, a flagrant womanizer.

Bellow, Saul. Collected Stories; preface by Janis Bellow; introduction by James Wood. New York: Viking, 2001.
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Harper Library
PS3503.E4488 A6 2001
Though most of these 13 stories already appear in other Bellow collections, this batch offers a worthy immersion in his shorter fiction, which works just like his longer fiction: things happen, people think about them, then (often with a burst of unexpected clarity) the fun takes over.

Boswell, Robert. Century's Son. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002
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Harper Library
PS3552.O8126 C46 2002
The world rolls on in recrimination and mourning in this novel of four generations, the first represented by a Russian dissident full of falsehoods, the second an unhappy couple, the third an adolescent suicide and a 15-year-old mother.

Butler, Robert Olen. Fair Warning: A Novel. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002.
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PS3552.U8278 F35 2002
This witty, airy novel fuses comedy of manners and of philosophy, realized in the life of a fine-arts auctioneer whose presentations, orgasmic necessities for her, are sheer performance, aimed at the cupidity and insecurity of her audiences.

Byler, Stephen Raleigh. Searching for Intruders: A Novel in Stories. New York: William Morrow, 2002
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PS3602.Y54 S43 2002
Some confident, ruefully funny pieces in a mode (one far from exhausted, as Byler shows) established by Raymond Carver and Richard Ford, exploring what might be called post-postmacho manhood.

Chidgey, Catherine. Golden Deeds. London: Picador, 2000.
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PR9639.3.C535G6 2000
(American edition published under the title The Strength of the Sun)
A fascinating novel in which widely separated simultaneous events -- a girl's disappearance, a scholar's leaving his wife -- develop or discover connections in a sort of quantum-mechanics way that seems to explore the idea of connectedness itself.

Coe, Jonathan. The Rotters' Club. London; New York: Viking, 2001.
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PR6053.O26R68 2001
A fictional British panorama, of the early stages of the transformation wrought on Britain by Margaret Thatcher (another volume is to come); its central figures, not quite finished, are chiefly university-bound students at a school in Birmingham.

Cohen, Robert. The Varieties of Romantic Experience: Stories. New York: Scribner, 2002.
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PS3553.O4273 V37 2002
Cohen's first collection of stories is as lyrical as it is economical, closely associating love and desire with existential confusion.

Collins, Michael. The Keepers of Truth: A Novel. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 2001.
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PR6053.O4263 K44 2001
A sharp, wry novel on the pitfalls and pleasures of American society, featuring a down-to-earth narrator from a seen-better-days city, and a mysterious disappearance; a finalist for Britain's Booker Prize in 2000.

Crafts, Hannah. Bondwoman's Narrative; edited by Henry Louis Gates. New York: Warner, 2002.
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PS1449.C72 B66 2002
An autobiographical novel from the 1850's by ''a fugitive slave, recently escaped,'' this is apparently the first novel by a black woman, let alone by a female fugitive slave; its access to the reality of slavery is as unmediated as we are likely to get.

Crowley, John. The Translator. New York: William Morrow, 2002.
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PS3553.R597 T73 2002
A college student's crush on a Soviet poet in the 1960's serves to support this novel's fictional world full of conspiracy theories and paranoia but sustained with far nobler stuff: poetry, the souls of nations, the transforming power of language.

Davidar, David. The House of Blue Mangoes. New York: HarperCollins, c2002.
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PR9499.4.D38 H68 2002
A polished first novel by the C.E.O. of Penguin India, the book tracks three generations of the Dorais, a Christian family from the south of India, across the first half of the 20th century, ending just before independence.

Dee, Jonathan. Palladio: A Novel. New York: Doubleday, c2002
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PS3554.E355 P35 2002
Dee, a courageous novelist of ideas, takes on morals, lost love and the art of selling in this story about a beautiful (and passive) woman and two advertising executives who differ about the power of the viewer over the thing viewed.

Doerr, Anthony. The Shell Collector: Stories. New York: Scribner, 2002.
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PS3604.O47 S54 2002
Hunting and being hunted, holding on and letting go are the themes that govern this skillful first collection, inhabited by people apt to fall in love with a magician's assistant or run away with a metal eater from a traveling carnival.

Dugan, Alan. Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry. New York: Seven Stories Press, c2001.
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Harper Library
PS3554.U33 P65 2001
A big volume by a major poet (it won a National Book Award this year) whose life work is adult matter, full of conviction and void of easy poses; its great theme is human pettiness exposed yet dignified by mortality.

Dunmore, Helen. The Siege. New York: Grove Press, c2001.
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PR6054.U528 S54 2001
A powerful, well-researched novel (Dunmore's seventh) that follows a young woman and her family during the siege of Leningrad in 1941.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Everything is Illuminated. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
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PS3606.O38 E84 2002
Alex, a Ukrainian lad whose love for everything American has infected his speech with an amazing thesaurus of near-miss English, narrates this novel about himself and Jonathan Safran Foer, who is visiting ancestral territory and working on a novel about a Ukrainian town where dozens of worthy themes usefully congregate.

Flanagan, Richard. Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish. New York: Grove, 2001
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PR9619.3.F525 G68 2002
Phantasmagoric energy propels this novel of Tasmanian wonders and horrors whose hero is based on an English convict, the author of a book on the local fish, who died trying to escape from a penal colony in 1831; the original Gould's illustrations appear.

Ford, Richard. A Multitude of Sins: Stories. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001
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PS3556.O713 M85 2001
Quite a few wrongs are done in these elegantly worded stories, although what prevails is generally adultery, often at the end of an affair or later, when it's too late to throw those dice again.

Frayn, Michael. Spies: A Novel. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2002.
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PR6056.R3 S65 2002
The 10th novel by this master of the intellectual mystery masquerading as popular entertainment concerns a London suburb where, if memory serves the narrator, the phases of the moon govern events during World War II and an alleged spy's conduct visibly contradicts the everyday space-time continuum.

Freed, Lynn. House of Women: A Novel. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 2002.
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PR9369.3.F68 H65 2002
Fairy-tale elements prevail in this novel in which a mother and a daughter fight to the death; Nalia, an opera singer and Holocaust survivor, reigns over Thea, who is quasi-abducted by a Bluebeardish Syrian in a narrative full of dream logic, psychoanalysis and the writing of journals for others to read.

Gordimer, Nadine. The Pickup. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
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Harper Library
PR9369.3.G6 P53 2001
A chance meeting between a rich, white, South African woman and an immigrant from a Muslim country turns into a love affair that suggests two cultures in quest of each other and the uses of mutual incomprehension for mutual attraction.

Greenlaw, Lavinia. Mary George of Allnorthover. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
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PR6057.R375 M3 2001
A finely constructed first novel that unveils another eccentric from rural England: Mary George, a socially clumsy yet plucky teenage dreamer who overcomes obstacles (many of which she is oblivious of) by ignoring them.

Grossman, David. Be My Knife; translated by Vered Almog and Maya Gurantz. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
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PJ5054.G728 S5413 2001
A brilliant concoction by an outstanding Israeli novelist whose hero, a 33-year-old married man, persuades a woman to undertake a brutally honest love affair to be carried on, in a political and physical vacuum, entirely by correspondence.

Hadley, Tessa. Accidents in the Home. New York: Henry Holt, 2002.
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PR6108.A35 A65 2002
The link between reading and adultery, refined and elaborated since Flaubert, governs affairs in this rewarding, concentrated novel about a voraciously literate 29-year-old Englishwoman and her family and her childhood friend (and the friend's boyfriend).

Harrison, Kathryn. The Seal Wife. New York: Random House, 2002.
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PS3558.A67136 S43 2002
In this thickly atmospheric novel, set in 1915 Alaska, Harrison characteristically combines love and suffering, vulnerability and dominance, in a sexual affair between a young weather scientist and an Aleutian woman who almost never speaks.

Hiaasen, Carl. Basket Case. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
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D'Angelo Law Library
PS3558.I217 B37 2002
Hiaasen's caper about murder in the music business skewers both corporate media operations and the world of pop stardom.

Hooper, Chloe. A Child's Book of True Crime. New York: Scribner, 2002.
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PR9619.4.H66 C45 2002
An ambitious first novel by an Australian, in which an adulterous affair between a schoolteacher and a student's father runs parallel to an affair that ended in murder 20 years earlier. There is cause to be ill at ease, since the wronged wife in affair A has just published a book about affair B.

Hughes, Mary Beth. Wavemaker II. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002.
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PS3608.U56 W38 2002
The title of this politically imaginative first novel is the name of a boat belonging to Roy Cohn, who appears, impetuous and sentimental, human and controversial, at the top of a pyramid of enterprise supported, to his cost, by Will Clemens, a loyal young executive, and his loyal wife.

Jiles, Paulette. Enemy Women. New York: William Morrow, 2002.
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PR9199.3.J54 E5 2002
Love crosses the lines in this Civil War novel set in dubious Missouri, where an18-year-old spitfire of rebel attachments is the prisoner of a Union officer whose interrogation of her turns into a prison romance.

Kennedy, William. Roscoe. New York: Viking, 2002.
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Harper Library
PS3561.E428 R67 2002
In the seventh novel of Kennedy's splendid Albany cycle, Roscoe Conway, heir to the city's three-time mayor, operator and fixer and finder of needful cash, runs out of zeal for politics and falls in love with another man's wife.

Klima, Ivan. No Saints or Angels; translated by Gerald Turner. New York: Grove Press, 2001.
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Harper Library
PG5039.21.L5 A8413 2001
The personal and the political are inseparable in Klima's newest novel, in which a Prague dentist, daughter of a zealous bureaucrat of the former regime, determines that the hate mail she has been receiving originates with a half brother previously unknown to her.

Lawson, Mary. Crow Lake. New York: Dial Press, 2002.
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PR9199.4.L39 C76 2002
This ambitious first novel combines two standard motifs - sudden orphanhood and rescue by an inspiring schoolteacher -- in an exploration of class and sibling rivalry, ennui and persistence, especially in the character of Kate Morrison, who rises against tall odds to an academic career she actually has little heart for.

Lee, Andrea. Interesting Women. New York: Random House, 2002.
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PS3562.E324 I58 2002
A lush collection of beautifully textured fiction, set mostly in Italy, where the author lives, and featuring American expatriate beauties, many of them black, in situations that are concerned with multiple ways of being foreign -- even in your own home, country or marriage.

Leonard, Elmore. Tishomingo Blues. New York: William Morrow, 2002.
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PS3562.E55 T57 2002
Leonard's latest cinema-ready tale is riotously funny, featuring a high-diving protagonist in Tunica, Miss., the rural Mafiosi that want him whacked, quixotic supporting characters aplenty and a Civil War re-enactment of the less-than-epic Battle of Brice's Cross Roads.

Lerner, Lisa. Just like Beauty. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002.
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PS3612.E39 J97 2002
A captivating first novel that takes a surreal look at the buildup to a beauty pageant and a 14-year-old narrator's struggle to break free of its spell.

Lessing, Doris. The Sweetest Dream. London: Flamingo, 2001.
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PR6023.E833S94 2001
A novel, clearly autobiographical but far from self-invasive, omitting the author's involvements with psychology and mysticism in favor of a kind of fable that can contain Communism, personal freedom and the doing of good in southern Africa.

Masiel, Vavid. 2182 kHz: A Novel. New York: Random House, 2002.
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PS3613.A8 A15 2002
A confidently anarchic first novel whose title refers to the international distress channel for mariners in trouble; most of it happens at sea off Alaska, and the chief victim of the happenings is a likable unfortunate who has spent a decade working the Arctic and becomes the only survivor of a disaster wrought by a captain who screams at his crew, ''Do Things!''

McEwan, Ian. Atonement: A Novel. New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2002.
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PR6063.C4 A88 2002
The idyllic situation of an English family in 1935 disintegrates, starting with a crime; World War II is no help either in this novel by a writer who can both convey obsession and step outside and see how obsession looks to others.

McGahern, John. That They May Face the Rising Sun. London: Faber, 2002.
(American edition published under the title By the Lake)
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PR6063.A2176T43 2002
The sixth novel in 40 years of careful, lapidary production by this elegant Irish writer concerns the passage of a year in an unnamed Irish village, a couple who have returned to it and a community for which the biggest event of the year is the arrival of a telephone pole.

McGuane, Thomas. The Cadence of Grass. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
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PS3563.A3114 C33 2002
McGuane's first novel in 10 years shows, as his work in the 1970's did, people responding with comically awful behavior to a hostile but also zany universe; there is a plot, concerning some kind of infernal legacy, but the digressions the author can never resist are, fortunately, deft and funny no matter how irrelevant or inconsequential.

McMurtry, Larry. Sin Killer: The Berrybender Narratives, Book 1. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.
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Harper Library
PS3563.A319 S56 2002
This irresistible tale, the first of a planned tetralogy, full of blood, blunder and myth, follows the fate of an upper-crust British family that attempts to explore the Western frontier (circa 1830) with a huge traveling menage.

Miller, Andrew. Oxygen. London: Sceptre, 2001.
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PR6063.I3564 O99 2001
In this unusually artful novel, the author, who never really hides his presence, combines two stories that are long and curious in their discovery of each other: one about an Englishwoman with a terminal cancer and her two sons, and another concerning a gay Hungarian playwright who is burdened by regret for his actions during the revolution of 1956.

Milosz, Czeslaw. New and Collected Poems 1931-2001. New York: Ecco, 2001.
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Harper Library
PG7158.M553 A2 2001 In the winter of his 70-year career, Milosz appears to be locked in insoluble argument with himself: where he once credited poetry with the power to rescue mankind from the void, he now demurs, maintaining that language is inadequate to the task of capturing verity.

Minot, Susan. Rapture. New York: Alfred A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 2002.
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PS3563.I4755 R37 2002
The action of this brief novel is a single act of oral sex, but its life is found in memories of a doomed affair and the thoughts of Kay and Benjamin, its partners; they know each other well, but not what is happening between them.

Mukherjee, Bharati. Desirable Daughters. New York Theia/Hyperion, 2002.
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PR9499.3.M77 D47 2002
In this shrewd, intellectual novel, an Americanized Bengali woman in San Francisco is forced to reckon at length with the culture she has cast aside when a man says he is the illegitimate son of her sister in New York.

Nelson, Antonya. Female Trouble: A Collection of Short Stories. New York: Scribner, c2002.
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PS3564.E428 F46 2002
Nelson's fourth collection, written in clear, muscular prose that endures depression, deals chiefly with distraught women in the act of returning, often to a childhood home, looking for a second chance.

Nicholson, Geoff. Bedlam Burning. London: Victor Gollancz, 2000.
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PR6064.I225 B43 2000
A lively novel involving madness, false identities and the nature of authorship (Nicholson's 13th novel; he should know). Its narrator, a handsome chap, agrees to impersonate his friend, a weedy novelist, and winds up in a lunatic asylum.

O'Brien, Edna. In the Forest. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
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PR6065.B7 I5 2002
Though not wholly lacking in the adulterous impulse so fundamental to the characters in O'Brien's powerful evocations of Irish reality in the past, the principals in this novel are concerned with murder, madness and innocence in the backwoods of their island.

O'Neill, Jamie. At Swim, Two Boys: A Novel. New York: Scribner, 2002.
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PR6065.N4194 A92 2002
Two great causes -- free Ireland and a free gay nation -- coincide in this polished but energetic novel built on the hazards of love, heroism, history and tenderness, and placed in political and moral history by the Easter Rising of 1916.

Packer, Ann. The Dive from Clausen's Pier. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
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PS3616.A33 D58 2002
Many a young person has come to New York for a restart; the narrator of this beguiling first novel, which is much concerned with the particularities of place and conduct, does it after a nitwit move by her fiance in Wisconsin renders him quadriplegic.

Pearson, T.R. Polar. New York: Viking, 2002.
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PS3566.E235 P65 2002
A quietly unsettling, darkly satirical Southern novel, whose hero, an old rural Virginia reprobate, inexplicably acquires oracular familiarity with the Antarctic and knowledge about a little girl's unsolved disappearance.

Ponsot, Marie. Springing: New and Selected Poems. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002
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PS3531.O49 S67 2002
A love poet, a metaphysician and a formalist, Ponsot cultivates an eccentricity that allows her to make her moral points epigrammatically or on the sly; this is her fifth book of poems, the product of a long life and shrewd pruning.

Poirier, Mark Jude. Unsung Heroes of American Industry. New York: Hyperion, 2001
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PS3566.O394 U57 2001
A light pathos pervades this nimble collection of stories about men and women in dying industries (worm breeding, for example).

Shields, Carol. Unless. New York: Fourth Estate, 2002.
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PR9199.3.S514 U55 2002
The useful monotony of happiness'' is what's missing for Reta, a writer whose eldest daughter, Norah, has taken to sitting and begging on a downtown street corner; Reta's response and the author's tone, measured and calm, are of greater interest than Norah's withdrawal itself.

Shreve, Anita. Sea Glass., Boston: Little, Brown, 2002.
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PS3569.H7385 S43 2002
Shreve's grim, vivid novel follows a young couple in Depression-era New England, and the people, brought together by hard times, whose lives become entwined with theirs.

Templeton, Edith. The Darts of Cupid and Other Stories. New York: Pantheon Books 2002.
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PR6070.E495 D37 2002
The minutely observed social transactions and discriminating aper?us in these stories by a writer who is now 85 are set in train by a kind of erotic attraction that the clinically minded would not hesitate to call sadomasochism.

Thompson, Jean. Wide Blue Yonder: A Novel. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.
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PS3570.H625 W5 2002
Happiness is permitted in this novel about a mother and her daughter who survive a hot summer in Springfield, Ill., despite the intrusions of troublesome characters; by the end, the mother has seen in the daughter her own power to be kind, insightful and brave.

Trillin, Calvin. Tepper Isn't Going Out: A Novel. New York: Random House, 2001.
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D'Angelo Law Library
PS3570.R5 T4 2001
A Manhattan driver, the hero of this novel, seeks the island's best parking spaces and occupies them, sitting and reading while the meter runs; his offhand concentration makes him a kind of Zen saint and leads to a struggle with a mayor whose rage for order suggests Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Tsypkin, Leonid. Summer in Baden-Baden: A Novel; translated from the Russian by Roger and Angela Keys; introduction by Susan Sontag. New York: New Directions, 2001.
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PG3791.3.S98L4813 2001
An extraordinary novel by a Soviet Jewish doctor who died unpublished in 1982; its hero is Dostoyevsky, and its central enigma is the anti-Semitism of a great writer whose fiction is profoundly sensitive to human suffering and the pain of others, proclaiming the right to life and sunshine of every creature not Jewish.

Tuck, Lily. Limbo, and Other Places I have Lived: Stories. New York: HarperCollins, c2002.
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PS3570.U236 L5 2002
There is a distance at the heart of Tuck's collection of short stories about women searching for themselves: a woman fears becoming unrecognizable to her own family, husbands and wives drift apart in their intimacy. Exotic locations underscore the unity of Tuck's tone.

Waters, Sarah. Fingersmith. New York: Riverhead Books, 2002.
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PR6073.A828 F56 2002
A fine Gothic ear is part of Waters's kit in this neo-Dickensian tale of a baby farmer and a foundling who is drawn into a fearful sexual intimacy as part of a scheme to defraud an heiress.

Zagajewski, Adam. Without End: New and Selected Poems; translations by Clare Cavanagh et al. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.
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PG7185.A32 A23 2002
A new anthology by a poet who was a 1970's dissident in Poland, where words are weighted with history that takes them beyond their lexical meanings and things are frequently renamed; this volume contains three previous English collections, recent work and some new translations of earlier poems.