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Paperback picks

Paperback picks — The latest books from Larry Brown, John Edgar Wideman, Ira Levin, and more

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Big Bad Love
Larry Brown
Brown’s heroes travel between trailer parks and beer bars, either chasing down or running from women. This collection of 10 stories is remarkably even in pace and coherent in mood. Like the worker in ”The Apprentice,” who wears his radioactive clothes at home, Brown’s characters glow something awful in the dark; a kind of emotional nuclear fission between them sends off the sparks. AJohn Donatich

Fade Out: The Calamitous Final Days of MGM
Peter Bart
A former MGM executive who now edits Variety, Bart casts the players in the last bloody Sunday of MGM/UA Pictures. It was a real-life ’80s horror show featuring leveraged buyouts by corporate pirates and market sellouts of artist-controlled interests. Like Liar’s Poker and Barbarians at the Gate, this is a tale both cautionary and shaming. B+JD

Philadelphia Fire
John Edgar Wideman
Winner of the 1991 PEN/Faulkner award, this novel eulogizes the members of an Afrocentric cult in Philadelphia who were firebombed on Mayor Wilson Goode’s orders in 1985. Wideman’s fictional account is truly incendiary, filled with a blaze that rages on in its struggle to imagine the lives that history has forgotten. AJD

Food Finds
Allison Engel and Margaret Engel
A revised and reissued bible of mail-order goodies: spicy ginger ale from Blenheim, S.C. (motto: ”We burn ya”); raw-milk cheeses from Missouri; smoked fish from Oregon; veal from humanely treated calves raised in Virginia. Well presented and written with gluttonous brio. A

The Lives of the Dead
Charlie Smith
A once-successful alternative filmmaker on a fund-raising holiday in Florida tells us that ”you have to make yourself look to see, you have to bring yourself to bear on things.” Bearing down on things is what poet-novelist Smith does for the next 400 pages of this plotless novel. Alternately funny, self-indulgent, violent, erotic, and ultimately exasperating, Lives of the Dead is the work of a man who refuses to edit insight, experience, or his own prose. C+JD

On This Hilltop
Sue Hubbell
Sue Hubbell is an Ozarks version of Annie Dillard, which is to say she writes lyrically and profoundly about nature. This slight but enjoyable collection of her early newspaper columns is worthwhile for Hubbell fans, but novices would do better to start with A Country Year: Living the Questions (1986), her first book. B — Liz Logan

Sliver
Ira Levin
The concept behind Sliver couldn’t be simpler: electronic voyeurism. A bright, handsome, rich psychotic has wired an entire high rise on Manhattan’s Upper East Side so that he can view his tenants on a secret closed-circuit TV network. Readers so virtuous that they’ve never eavesdropped on a phone conversation or read someone else’s mail may not find Levin’s fantasy especially compelling, but for the rest of us, Sliver offers a large slice of delicious, double-chocolate escapist trash. A