EW looks at books out the week of May 4, 1990 -- A sampling of the opening lines from books out this week

Five O'Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St. Just

The King

By Donald Barthelme
Illustrated by Barry Moser
Harper & Rowe/An Edward Burlingham Book
$16.25, Fiction

”See there! It’s Launcelot!”
”Riding, riding —”
”How swiftly he goes!”
”As if enchafed by a fiend!”
”The splendid muscles of his horse move rhythmically under the drenchàd skin of same!”
”By Jesu, he is in a vast hurry!”
”But now he pulls up the horse and sits for a moment, lost in thought!”
”Now he wags his great head in daffish fashion!”
”He reins the horse about and puts the golden spurs to her!”

Five O’clock Angel

Letters of Tennesse Williams to Maria St. Just
Preface by Elia Kazan
Knopf, $24.95, Nonfiction

Who is Maria?
Most every author I’ve known has someone special that he or she looked to for a judgment — in advance — on his or her work. This might be a trusted editor but was less likely to be an intellectual than a person whose instinct the writer respects absolutely. In the case of Tennessee Williams, a man who would doubt praise when he thought it excessive and was equally able to shoulder off attacks and go on with his work, this one trusted person was Maria St. Just. Often the identity of such a person is kept secret by the author — who can easily yield that much power to another? But when Tennessee wanted a loyal, because absolutely true, reaction, he would turn to her. When he wrote what he called an autobiography, he sent it to her, then asked what she thought. Yes, she said, she had the book, and now it was where it belonged — in her wastepaper basket. Possibly Tennessee was hurt, but not for longer than a minute, and he was not alienated. He suspected that in very short order he might hold the same opinion of that book. It had happened before.

Race of Scorpions

By Dorothy Dunnett
Knopf, $19.95, Fiction

That November, God sent snow to north Italy, to the inconvenience of all who had to travel on horseback. The way between Porretta and Bologna became $ choked, and only the robust cared to use it. Among these was the friar Ludovico de Severi da Bologna who set out from Porretta one evening in a mood of ferocious good humor. The snow had brought him good luck. He had located the souls he was looking for.

The Buddha of Suburbia

By Hanif Kureishi
Viking, $18.95, Fiction

My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost. I am often considered to be a funny kind of Englishman, a new breed as it were, having emerged from two old histories. But I don’t care — Englishman I am (though not proud of it), from the South London suburbs and going somewhere. Perhaps it was the odd mixture of continents and blood, of here and there, of belonging and not, that made me restless and easily bored. Or perhaps it was being brought up in the suburbs that did it. Anyway, why search the inner room when it’s enough to say that I was looking for trouble, any kind of movement, action and sexual interest I could find, because things were so gloomy, so slow and heavy, in our family, I don’t know why. Quite frankly, it was all getting me down and I was ready for anything. Then one day everything changed. In the morning things were one way and by bedtime another. I was seventeen.

Five O'Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St. Just
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