The Secret Pilgrim

February 14, 1992 at 05:00 AM EST

Ferris Beach
Jill McCorkle (first published in 1990)
Few writers can spin out chatty Southern speech better than the author of Tending to Virginia. McCorkle is a talent to be reckoned with, but there’s not a new move to be found in this tale of a shy Southern girl and her more daring friend. It feels like recommended reading from a sensitive high school counselor. C

Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine (1990)
Whichever name she writes under, no one plumbs the depths of psychotic obsession with such cool precision as Ruth Rendell. This tale of twisted love and kidnapping is set in Italy and iced with prickly humor. Unputdownable. A

Cold Sassy Tree
Olive Ann Burns (1984)
This mass market reissue of Burns’ homey near-classic ought to draw more readers to Sassy Tree. The late Burns recreates the habits and attitudes of small-town life so lovingly that the main story of an old geezer who marries a younger gal is almost secondary. As in most Southern tales, it’s the digressions that shine. A-

Darkness Visible
William Styron (1990)
A moving, but not always illuminating, account of the author’s bout with suicidal depression. The great chasm between the sick and the well prevents an unafflicted reader from gaining more than a metaphorical grip on the breakdown Styron is describing. A-

The Next Century
David Halberstam (1991)
Best known for his encyclopedic reporting in such books as The Best and the Brightest and The Powers That Be, Halberstam delivers a stern warning to Americans that unless they wake up and smell the economic and geopolitical coffee, as Ann Landers might put it, ”something terrible is going to happen.” Exactly what disaster awaits us, Halberstam is too cautious to say. B

Josephine Hart (1991)
Hart’s novel — one of the most heavily hyped debuts in recent memory — turns out to be the ordinary story of a buttoned-up man who gets undone by something wild. A competent tale of sex and death, something Iris Murdoch could have written in a weekend. B-

The Secret Pilgrim
John le Carré (1990)
This time the Cold War theme, laid on with a heavy hand, often seems tired. But page by page, Le Carré remains enough of a dazzler — the scorching dialogue, the fascinating details, the wry and seductive narration — to make The Secret Pilgrim a richly diverting disappointment. B+

Anywhere But Here
Mona Simpson (1986)
A mother with a penchant for California dreamin’ takes her act — and daughter — on the road. This widely praised novel from the author of The Lost Father launched a wave of crazy mama/alienated girlhood novels. Fans will remember Simpson’s quirky characters and details. Detractors may recall her somewhat shaggy narrative. (These gals move a lot slower than Thelma and Louise.) A-

Many Things Have Happened Since He Died
Elizabeth Dewberry Vaughn (1990)
Here’s fast-food misery, double shakes, and an order of sighs to go. All of the above are served up in the story of a 20-year-old Alabama fundamentalist whose great interest in life is writing a best-seller about her domestic sufferings. C-

The Secret Pilgrim

John leCarre
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The Secret Pilgrim

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