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Mississippi Books and Writers

October 1998

Note: Prices listed below reflect the publisher's suggested list price. They are subject to change without notice.

The New WolvesThe New Wolves

Nonfiction by Rick Bass

Lyons Press (Hardcover, $18.95, ISBN: 1558216979)

Publication date: October 1998

Description from Book List:

“I’d rather try to protect an undesignated wilderness area … than spend energy on lobbying for the return of some single species,” Bass declares, describing plans for the release of nearly a dozen Mexican wolves (lobos) in the Blue Mountains of Arizona. Concern for the larger ecosystem is clear as Bass scans the overgrazed Arizona environment, scientists’ efforts to ready wolves raised in captivity for the wild, and the positions of ranchers and environmentalists. Here, as in The Ninemile Wolves (1992) and The Sky, the Stars, the Wilderness, Bass’ involving descriptions of the lobos and their home in the mountains explain the interaction between species preservation and ecological recovery. Committed as this skilled nature writer is to restoration of the wilderness and endangered species, he urges attention to broader issues: “We must take care of the wolves and yet concern ourselves, too, with the rest of the system ... without compromising our beliefs and values.” —Mary Carroll.

Fiber

Fiction by Rick Bass, Illustrated by Elizabeth Hughes Bass

University of Georgia Press (Hardcover, $15.95, ISBN: 0820320633)

Publication date: October 1998

Description from Kirkus Reviews:

This is the first separate publication of a fierce plea for the preservation of nature, in the guise of a short story, originally published in the anthology Off the Beaten Path: Stories of Place. The themes raised here will come as no surprise to fans of Bass’s work as a novelist and essayist; wild nature still offers, for those willing to seek it, a “blessed landscape,” diverse and instructive beauty, and a reanimating strength. The protagonist of the tale lives (as does Bass) in the Yaak Valley of northwestern Montana, a region still largely wild but also profoundly endangered by logging and the threat of development. As a kind of defiance of both the loggers and the capricious federal government, Bass’s narrator makes a slender living by cutting down already damaged trees in the wilderness areas, sometimes going so far as to deposit them on the doorstep of an unsuspecting logger. The plot, however, is not much developed. In essence, the tale is simply another version of Bass’s clearly heartfelt plea for people to organize to protect the Yaak, a wildly beautiful area in danger of being destroyed by logging. An appendix on “What You Can Do” instructs readers on how to get involved. Fiber offers, for those requiring it, further evidence that Bass is rapidly becoming one of our preeminent writers on the environment. A strong, sad piece of work. (Illustrations by Elizabeth Hughes Bass, the author’s wife) —Copyright © 1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Truth: Four Stories I Am Finally Old Enough to TellTruth: Four Stories I Am Finally Old Enough to Tell

By Ellen Douglas

Algonquin (Hardcover, $18.95, ISBN: 1565122143)

Publication date: October 1998

Description from Kirkus Reviews:

Earnest, searching inquiry into family and regional history “and the pivotal but mutable role memory plays in both” by one of the true grand dames of southern letters. Douglas, author of seven books of fiction (Can’t Quit You Baby, 1988; A Lifetime Burning, 1982; The Rock Cried Out, 1979;) turns to nonfiction, though her musings on the connections between life and art demonstrate how unsatisfactory genre classifications can be. As the narrative moves backward in time (each selection exploring an earlier period than the preceding one), the style changes from fiction to personal essay. “Grant,” about a terminally ill uncle who moved in with Douglas’s family, is a textbook example of the short story form. “Julia and Nellie” is a long, convoluted (and sometimes confusing) exploration of the tangled allegiances among small-town Southern families. The book is a kind of owning up: Douglas tells stories that, for reasons from personal shame to a need to protect relatives, she couldn’t tell as a young woman. Striving to settle accounts, to discover a personal or historical truth, she runs up against her instincts as a novelist “an urge to extract meaning by fictionalizing, to imagine the cause of events” which clash with her desire to record or discover what really happened. In some instances she’s able (even willing) to invent. Mulling over the “ancient romance” at the heart of “Julia and Nellie,” she dreams up several explanations for the scandalous common-law marriage of distant cousins, then rejects them as too romantic. In others (“Hampton” and “On Second Creek,” in which she strives to understand the 1861 massacre of slaves belonging to her family), neither her fictionalizing nor the spotty family record is enough to fill in the missing links. Slightly more valuable for its insight into Douglas’s fiction than for what it says about history’s subjective biases. —Copyright © 1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

A Complicated Situation

Fiction by Jane Mullen

Southern Methodist University Press (Paperback, $19.95, ISBN: 0870744313)

Publication date: October 1998

Brief Review:

The nine stories of A Complicated Situation chart the complexities of human relationships and the ironies engendered by the ambivalences of the heart: A young girl’s father has died, obliging her mother to take in a series of boarders, the last of whom, one with a damaging secret, inadvertently drives a wedge between mother and daughter. An elderly man leaves the large midwestern house in which he has raised his family for a small room in his daughter’s apartment in Los Angeles, but finds within himself a number of spacious rooms sufficient for a lifetime’s wandering. A brother reluctantly takes his grieving sister into his London flat after their parents’ deaths and realizes, as he watches her try to adjust, that he is the one in need. After several years of living with her widowed stepfather in northern California, an adolescent girl tries to articulate her affection for him only as she is being sent back East to live with relatives she hardly knows.

Lightning SongLightning Song

A Novel by Lewis Nordan

Algonquin Books (Paperback, $10.95, ISBN: 1565122208)

Publication date: October 1998

Description by Valerie Sayers, The New York Times Book Review:

Mr. Nordan’s narrative voice, Southern and boyish and goofy, comes close to merging with the boy it describes. Sometimes it seems as if Leroy were zipping open his chest and displaying his heart, naked with longing: I must confess — reviewers have hearts, too — that I love this boy. I also love the excesses of this novel’s language; I love the lightning striking at regular intervals; I love the llamas singing in the fields beyond the house where Leroy lies in bed, pondering the mysteries of growing up; I love the novel’s shifting tone, sardonic when that’s required and tender when only tenderness will do.

Lewis & Clark: Voyage of DiscoveryLewis & Clark: Voyage of Discovery

Nonfiction by Stephen E. Ambrose, photographs by Sam Abell

National Geographic Society (Hardcover, $35.00, ISBN: 0792270843)

Publication date: October 1998

Description from Booklist (15 September 1998):

Don’t expect Ambrose’s second treatment of the Lewis and Clark expedition to retread his Undaunted Courage (1996), a huge-selling biography of Meriwether Lewis. An inspection of both books reveals only tiny verbatim repetition, and the cause soon becomes clear: whereas the biography held to the form’s stricture that the author be detached from his subject, this photo album proclaims Ambrose’s 20-year-long personal obsession (as he puts it) with the epic story. Since 1976 he and his family have spent their summers along the route taken by the Corps of Discovery; some family members have even moved to Montana because of their devotional interest in Lewis and Clark. Ambrose, drawing on his hikes and canoe trips to all the monuments between St. Louis and Fort Clatsop associated with the explorers, melds his memories and own journal entries with a new Lewis and Clark narrative spiced by entries from their journals. Akin to religious pilgrims, Ambrose and companions (including Dayton Duncan and film producer Ken Burns) often re-read passages from those journals at the locale an entry was written, allowing Ambrose to comment on the place’s contemporary appearance, whether pristine (Gates of the Rocky Mountains), or altered (the dammed-up Missouri River). The visual difference between Duncan and Burns’ Lewis & Clark (1997) and this Ambrose treatment is notable: the former uses nineteenth-century paintings; the latter contemporary National Geo-style photographs of the vistas. Ambrose remarks that his obsession changed his life, and surely his travelogue/tribute will change the vacation plans of some readers as well. Popular, beyond doubt. —Gilbert Taylor Copyright © 1998, American Library Association. All rights reserved.

The Victors: Eisenhower and His BoysThe Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys

Nonfiction by Stephen E. Ambrose

Simon & Schuster (Hardcover, $28.00, ISBN: 068485628X)

Publication date: October 1998

Description from Kirkus Reviews (October 1, 1998)

Revisiting ground covered previously in his superb Citizen Soldiers (1997) and other works about the climactic European campaigns of 1944-45, distinguished historian Ambrose (Undaunted Courage, 1996, etc.) tells the story of the conquest of Nazism by an array of American, English, and Canadian kids led by the plain-spoken Dwight Eisenhower. As in his earlier works, Ambrose focuses on the stories of individualsthe men who planned and led the invasion, the junior officers and non-commissioned officers, and the ordinary citizen soldiers of the Allied armies. He traces the training of ordinary boys from Chicago, Kansas, and Georgia, and the rise of their commander, Dwight Eisenhower, through a variety of staff posts. “Ike,” as he was known to absolutely everybody soon after his arrival in England in 1942, quickly became a favorite with the British press and with the often prickly English military establishment: He relied often on his considerable diplomatic skills to compel the British and American commanders to work together. However, the author faults the inefficiency of Ike’s war of attrition and his failure to ensure that his army was adequately trained and equipped for battle. Most of the narrative is devoted to the travails of the individual soldier in combat. With photographic immediacy, Ambrose shows the pitilessly savage nature of the war as he takes the reader through hellish beach landings, sanguinary battles to liberate Normandy, pursuit through France, the terrifying aspects of trench, street, and night battle, setbacks to the Allied advance, and the ferocious but ultimately unsuccessful German counter-punch through the Ardennes. Meticulously researched and characteristically well told. A compelling and heartfelt tribute to the GI. —Copyright © 1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Americans at WarAmericans at War

Nonfiction by Stephen E. Ambrose

Berkeley (Paperback, $14.00, ISBN: 0425165108)

Publication date: October 1998

Description:

Collected here for the first time are fifteen essays that span over 100 years of American history—and the remarkable thirty-year career of America’s foremost historian. Ambrose’s vivid and compelling essays take you to the heart of America’s wars, from Grant’s stunning Fourth of July victory at Vicksburg, to Nixon’s surprise Christmas bombing of Hanoi. Ambrose brings to life the ambition and charisma that led to Custer’s great success in the Civil War and fateful disaster at Little Big Horn. With vivid imagery and precise commentary, he puts you on the beaches of Normandy with the common footsoldier and in the headquarters of America’s great commanders, Eisenhower, Patton and MacArthur. He takes you to the trenches of the homefront, ground zero of the Atomic Bomb, and into the arsenals of the twenty-first century.

Bob the GamblerBob the Gambler

By Frederick Barthelme

Houghton Mifflin (Paperback; $12.00; ISBN: 039592474X)

Publication date: October 1998

Description from Kirkus Reviews (1 September 1997):

Barthelme’s latest exercise in existential pulse-taking focuses on the democratic vice of gambling, though it’s less a study in addiction than a celebration of risk-taking and downward mobility. Raymond Kaiser, his wife Jewel, and her daughter from a previous marriage, RV, all quietly enjoy life in Biloxi, Miss., a “simple, easy, cheap” town on the Gulf Coast. With work as an architect drying up, Ray finds himself increasingly interested in the glitzy world of offshore gambling, especially at the Paradise, where Jewel wins over $1,000 on their first trip. In their daily life, “everything’s dull,” so it’s no wonder that Jewel and Ray enjoy the visceral excitement of gambling. They soon graduate from slots to the blackjack table, and slowly find themselves down by over $4,000. Meanwhile, back home, RV seems headed into a downward spiral of teen rebellion—boy trouble, substance experimenting, and body piercings. It doesn’t help that her parents are largely absent, spending their nights at Paradise. When Ray’s father dies, it sends him further into a midlife crisis. He comes to see himself no longer as “an ordinary guy,” but as a full-time gambler. The problem is—he’s not very good at it. Spending 18 hours at a time in the casino does nothing but increase his debts. Maxing out a handful of credit cards, he finds himself over $35,000 in the hole, but still juiced by “the losses, the excitement, the hopes, the desperation, the high.” Quitting architecture altogether, Ray and Jewel decide to downsize, selling their belongings and moving in with Ray’s mother. In their new simplicity, this besieged family finally finds that happiness is not in middle-class stability, nor in the quick fix of gambling’s artificial Paradise, but in their everyday Edenic lives. Barthelme strains for topical textures—cool repartee is interrupted only by channel surfing. But the real payoff is straight-up and timeless: a novel of surprising heart and soul. —Copyright © Kirkus Associates, LP.

Religion and the American Civil WarReligion and the American Civil War

Edited by Randall M. Miller, Harry S. Stout, and Charles Reagan Wilson

Oxford University Press (Paperback; $24.95; ISBN: 0195121295)

Publication date: October 1998

Description from The Southern Register (Fall 1999):

This collection of essays is the first extended treatment of the relationship between American religious life and the Civil War…. In illuminating the complex relationship of religion and the Civil War, the editors bring together a stellar group of scholars…. This new book opens new scholarly perspectives on the Civil War and shows how religious issues occupied center stage of the conflict that rested on fundamental issues of American self-definition and the emergence of a modern nation.

Remember Me, CowboyRemember Me, Cowboy

By Caroline Burnes (Carolyn Haines)

Harlequin (Paperback, ISBN: 0373224850)

Publication date: October 1998

Shakespeare's ChampionShakespeare’s Champion

By Charlaine Harris

Dell (Paperback, ISBN: 0440224217)

Publication date: October 1998

Description from Kirkus Reviews:

The author’s strong, often silent heroine, Lily Bard, and Shakespeare, Arkansas, her adopted hometown, in a second appearance (Shakespeare’s Landlord, 1996). Lily cleans houses for a living and works out at the BodyTime Gym. There, early one morning, she and young Bobo Winthrop discover the body of fitness enthusiast Del Packard—crushed by a weight-laden bar.

Accident or murder? Police Chief Claude Freidrich, Lily’s neighbor and would-be lover, doesn’t have a clue. Meanwhile, Packard’s death seems yet more evidence of the town’s sinister atmosphere, a sense of unease going back to the not-long-ago beating death of black Darnell Glass and the killing, a few weeks later, of white farmer Lee Elgin—neither murder ever solved.

Now, the racist fliers placed in car windows around town don’t help. Then there’s the pony-tailed stranger seen with Hollis Winthrop Jr.—one of Lily’s employers and head of his family’s lucrative sporting-goods business now that patriarch Hollis Sr. has retired. A frightening act of violence in the black community church prompts the stranger to reveal his true identity to Lily, and it’s she, with help from an unexpected source, who rescues him as the whole ugly scenario unravels.

Wheels within wheels in a suspenseful story packed with nasty characters, a few good guys, some graphic sex, and more exercise and karate lore than you ever wanted to know. Lily’s stubborn, moody, gutsy persona holds it all together, and most readers will be with her to the finish. —Copyright 1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Next to Last ChanceNext to Last Chance

By Louisa Dixon

Genesis Press (Hardcover, $24.95, ISBN: 1885478399)

Publication date: October 1998

Description from Independent Publisher :

Louisa Dixon clearly draws heavily upon her unique experience as Mississippi Highway Patrol Commissioner to fashion this thriller. Laura Owen, the novel’s fictional appointee to that position, has been dealing rather successfully with good ol’ boys much of her life. Two such old acquaintances, who will be her nemeses throughout the novel, open the book with a gruesome act that presages their entire futures. This is no mystery: we know which ruthless bad guys are on a collision course with Laura as she leads a war against drug dealers. We can also predict what becomes of these former classmates of Laura’s—that’s how two-dimensional they are—though the eventual downfall of one does have its satisfactions. The major interest in this book lies in seeing the inner workings of a skilled group of law enforcement personnel, and the related political journey of one very strong woman through a sexist world largely out to oust her. Dixon’s style is matter-of-fact and thorough. She takes us into this perilous, intriguing system of lawlessness and order, connecting highway roadblocks to political roadblocks, and troopers making arrests to the viciously partisan legislators they must petition for pay and support. This journey is so riveting it offsets the flaws of the story, including the plot-convenient marriage of Laura’s best friend to one of her enemies. Dixon’s portrayal of Laura’s emotions as mother, boss, wife and media personality also rings true. By the time you finish this tale of Southern greed and evil, you’ll probably look forward to the next book on Laura Owen’s continuing job as Safety Commissioner, but won’t wonder at all why Louisa Dixon has long since left that position.



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