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Paperback Picks

Paperback Picks — The latest books from Anne Rice, Lynn Lauber, and Sally Bedell Smith

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Family Sins & Other Stories
William Trevor
Fate and its subsidiaries — passion, character, illusion, family — move in mysterious and archaic ways in Trevor’s stories, some of which take place in the Ireland of a few decades ago but could as easily be set 100 years or more in the past. The title story sums up the essential theme of this masterful book: We might as well resign ourselves to our fate, which is to rebel against our fate. A

Friday Night Lights
H.G. Bissinger
The Last Picture Show with shoulder pads. Bissinger uses the story of a high school football season in Odessa, Tex., to show more than the town’s obsession with the gridiron. He gives us the heart of Odessa itself — its history and lost dreams. He doesn’t conceal his discomfort at the damage inflicted by Odessa’s football frenzy, but his tone is sympathetic. The reporting is absolutely extraordinary; call it a classic. A

White Girls
Lynn Lauber
These stories may seem aimless, but it’s Lauber’s style to make snapshots rather than construct narratives. Detail is her business, and the details here perfectly sum up the life of a small Ohio town. Hot summer afternoons at the drive-in; the local television chat show; the adolescent pranks of young women who wear halter tops and suck on filched ciggies. Lauber invests these images with a great deal of emotion, and her flat prose never loses its reticent power. A

The Witching Hour
Anne Rice
You want this saga of a brood of crazy crones in New Orleans to be as juicy as its publicity promises. Rice has crammed her capacious larder with quite a store of ghostly happenings (witches, psychics, near-death survivors) rendered in nicely purpled prose. But there’s enough exposition to choke even a supernatural attention span. Rice can spin a tale, but is she being paid by the word? C+

Machine Dreams
Jayne Anne Phillips
A reissue of one of the decade’s genuinely great American novels. Phillips captures the lingering effects of the Vietnam decade as they work themselves into one family’s hearts, minds, and myths. She communicates the integrity of her characters without turning them into silhouettes of noble virtue. Machine Dreams does for the domestic front in the aftermath of the war what Michael Herr’s Dispatches did for the war zone: It claims the territory as its own. A+

In All His Glory: The Life of William S. Paley
Sally Bedell Smith
A big, wonderfully detailed biography with a compelling narrative drive. The story of William S. Paley, the son of a Chicago cigar maker who reinvented himself as a suave tycoon, built CBS, and then presided over its decline, reads like the sort of story Theodore Dreiser or Frank Norris would have seized upon as emblematic of the American Century. With its small cast of powerful characters at the helm of television, radio, movies, and print, it also reads like a chapter from Ben Bagdikian’s Media Monopoly. A-