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Paperback Picks

The latest books from Lorrie Moore, Valerie Martin, and Alice Hoffman

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Like Life
Lorrie Moore
These new stories from the author of Self-Help and Anagrams are quirky and inventive. Moore’s characters, lonely yet tart, fill their time with odd jokes (”I don’t want to be cremated…it sounds just a little too much like a blender speed”), terminally unsatisfied ambitions, and people they can’t quite love. The longish title piece closes the collection with a thud. But after ”You’re Ugly, Too,” the tale of an Eastern academic facing middle age in the Middle West, you’re willing to forgive Moore just about anything. A

Set in Motion and Alexandra
Valerie Martin
Set in Motion is an unsettling early novel from the author of Mary Reilly. In it Martin has placed an enigmatic character in a world of strange sexual alliances and random violence. Helene, a 30ish New Orleans social worker, is direct and unsentimental, intelligent yet oddly passive with men. As three of them draw her deeper into relationships, she becomes an unflinching spectator of her own disaster.

Also available for the first time in paperback is Martin’s Alexandra, the story of a Louisiana bureaucrat with a complex inner life. When a dark beauty becomes the object of his affection, he uses her to unleash his strong hedonistic impulses. Another of Martin’s strange, addictive puzzles. Motion: B+ Alexandra: B

Bones and Silence
Reginald Hill
Like P.D. James, Reginald Hill spins melancholy webs from England’s exhausted hopes. But Bones beats the Queen of Crime’s recent ramshackle outings on one crucial score: The conclusion satisfies. As Police Superintendent Andrew Dalziel and Inspector Peter Pascoe investigate the apparent suicide of a construction mogul’s adulterous wife, we are drawn into a world where bleakness is leavened only by intelligence. A

The Boy Who Would Be King
Earl Greenwood and Kathleen Tracy
Whether you loathed him or loved him tender, you won’t be able to stop reading this memoir of Elvis by his cousin, Earl Greenwood. There was a sweet boy at the center of the legend, and he has rarely seemed so real or vulnerable as in the bittersweet family stories recounted here. A-

Seventh Heaven
Alice Hoffman
Since her first book (Property Of) was published in 1977, Hoffman’s fiction has been praised for its clever blend of the magical and the quotidian, the sensual and the coolly ironic. Set in humdrum surroundings, her fiction vibrates with oddly passionate characters, inexplicable events, and mystifying dollops of Jungian symbolism. Seventh Heaven — the story of a Long Island suburb turned inside out by the arrival of a young divorcée — is no exception. B

Mother Earth Father Sky
Sue Harrison
A direct descendent of Clan of the Cave Bear, Harrison’s novel is set among the Aleut Eskimos 9,000 years ago. It is the story of Chagak, a girl on the verge of becoming a woman, whose life is suddenly destroyed when marauders kill everyone else in her village. Despite its syrupy narrative, the book delivers a sense of period and some appealing lyric moments. B-