Notable books for the week of June 1, 1990 -- Short reviews on recently released titles

Notable books for the week of June 1, 1990

Reviews in Brief *Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart Joyce Carol Oates (Dutton, $19.95) The masterful realist at the peak of her powers. Comparisons with Balzac, Dickens, and Hardy are not farfetched. A

*The Cockroaches of Stay More Donald Harington (Vintage, paperback, $9.95) Regional literature (from the Ozarks)? Only if you consider Faulkner merely regional. A-

*Dark Star: The Tragic Story of Roy Orbison Ellis Amburn (Lyle Stuart, $18.95) A biography that never pierces Orbison’s black leather armor. D

*Family Pictures Sue Miller (Harper & Row, $19.95) An ordinary Chicago family with an autistic child — a loving, suffering family that endures and tries to learn. A

*Going Back to the River Marilyn Hacker (Vintage, paperback, $9.95) No contemporary poet writes as well of the comedy of love as Hacker, and none can approach her inviting combination of relaxation, wit, and formality. A-

*My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist Mark Leyner (Harmony, paperback, $7.95) At a time when most fiction is as well made and exciting as floral wallpaper, here’s a writer willing to decorate the room with the contents of his own dynamited head. B+

*Norma Shearer Gavin Lambert (Knopf, $24.95) A sympathetic and shrewd portrait of the MGM star. A

*One, by One, by One: Facing the Holocaust Judith Miller (Simon & Schuster, $22.95) A study of the ways in which various countries have shaped, and in some cases distorted, their memories of the Holocaust. B

*Saturday Night Susan Orlean (Knopf, $19.95) The rituals of Saturday night as observed by Americans from Massachusetts to Wyoming. A

*Secret Anniversaries Scott Spencer (Knopf, $19.95) Thinner, less expansive, and much more elliptical than Spencer’s previous novels, Secret Anniversaries has a promising conception — and some stunning scenes — but its execution is flawed. B-

*Small Victories: The Real World of a Teacher, Her Students & Their High School Samuel J. Freedman (Harper & Row, $22.95) An exhaustive, unsentimental report from the battle-scarred regions of American education. A

*Stone Heart Luanne Rice (Viking, $19.95) Maria Dark exchanges her life in Peru — and her faded marriage — for the peace of Hatuquitit, N.Y., where she grew up, and where she soon finds herself playing a part in the final act of a hellish family drama. This is the third novel from Rice, who gets better and better. B+

*Walter Winchell Michael Herr (Knopf, $18.95) In his first book of fiction, Herr (Dispatches) creates a new form — the screenplay as novel. A

*What Lisa Knew: The Truths and Lies of the Steinberg Case Joyce Johnson ( Putnam, $22.95) With this book, Johnson does what she wishes the courts had done: She tries Hedda Nussbaum as well as Joel Steinberg. Unfortunately, her case is built on conjecture, speculation, and some ill will. C


*The AIDS Benefits Handbook Thomas P. McCormack (Yale University Press, paperback, $8.95) According to its subtitle, it contains ”Everything You Need to Know to Get Social Security, Welfare, Medicaid, Medicare, Food Stamps, Housing, Drugs, and Other Benefits.”

*Bedrock Lisa Alther (Knopf, $19.95) Another curiously self-conscious novel from the author of Kinflicks.

*Beginning Kenneth Branagh (Norton, $19.95) The 28-year-old Irish actor-director (Henry V) agreed to write his biography for one reason: money to fund his Renaissance Theatre Company. Surprisingly, it is an entertaining, self-deprecating chronicle of his life and career thus far.

*A Moment’s Liberty: The Shorter Diary Virginia Woolf; abridged and edited by Anne Olivier Bell (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $22.95) Five volumes boiled down to one.

*Pirate Jenny April Bernard (Norton, $18.95) A delightful first novel about a spunky con artist who grows up by a poisoned river in a New England mill town, escapes, and makes her insidious way through New York society