The Book Browser -- A sampling of the opening lines from books out the week of April 20, 1990

Waiting for the Rain
By Indiana Nelson
Random House, $18.95 Fiction

An out-of-town visitor from Dragoon, Arizona, dangled from a window ledge on the thirty-eighth floor of the Empire State Building one cold and dreary day in New York City. Help eventually came in the person of a janitor, who crawled along the ledge to reach the unhappy fellow. The visitor snatched hold of the janitor’s pant leg, so that together they were hurled out into space, coming at last to a violent rest on the roof of the YWCA. On East Thirty-fourth Street, far below, the crawling procession of tiny cars had turned on their lights. It was Christmas Eve, 1955.

On Returning to Vietnam
By Morley Safer
Random House, $18.95

Hanoi — January 18, 4:00 p.m.: It is definitely not a bomber’s day as the Thai Airways flight arrives over Hanoi. The ceiling is something under one thousand feet and the plane is bouncing badly. For a moment I think there is no way we can land here and that we will turn back to Bangkok. But the pilot has obviously done this before, come through the mucky skies of a Hanoi winter. All hundred and nineteen passengers applaud when he lands hard, very hard, and finally to everyone’s relief we feel the engine thrust reversing. Hanoi at last, via twenty-eight years of curiosity that amounts almost to yearning just to look at these men in their natural state. I have seen them before only as piled-up corpses at the edge of bomb craters or as frightened young men, hands tied behind them, being urged on by the muzzle of a South Vietnamese or American rifle.

Buster Midnight’s Cafe
By Sandra Dallas
Random House, $17.95

You want to know about Butte, you go over to the twenty-four-hour Jim Hill Café & Cigar Store on Silver Street and ask for me and Whippy Bird. The lunch counter, not the bar since Whippy Bird doesn’t drink anymore, not after she got half of her stomach taken out. Whippy Bird can’t eat very well unless she lies down. When I get invited to her house for dinner, she serves it in the bedroom, where she can stretch out. With real company, she lies down on the couch, but me and Whippy Bird have been family all our lives, so we eat in the bedroom. ”Whippy Bird,” I say to her, ”you have more fun in that bed with a pork chop than you ever had with your husbands.” And she laughs and says: ”You’re right. You are surely right, Effa Commander.” Though I surely am not.

Saturday Night in America
By Susan Orlean
Knopf, $19.95

James Patrick Perron, who is now twenty-seven years old and the youngest mayor in the history of Elkhart, Indiana, as well as the youngest mayor of any decent-sized town in the state, drives a navy-blue Buick sedan with four doors, plush seats, power brakes, and a big, squishy suspension that smooths out bumps in the road. The car is loaded with luxury options and has a lot of pep, but it is not the sort of vehicle that people in Elkhart who consider themselves judges of such things — and there are quite a few who do — would call a cruising machine or a piece of muscle-car perfection.