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"Falling Man" by Don DeLillo;
It’s uncanny now to look back at the dust jacket for Don DeLillo’s novel, "Underworld," written four years before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Twin Towers rise up into the mist, with a church silhouetted in the foreground. A bird, now looking unmistakably like an airplane, seems to target the tower on the right.
It’s not the only time DeLillo’s work has seemed to foreshadow Sept. 11. A character in "Mao II," written in 1991, argues that terrorists have become more important than novelists in shaping the new world.
It seems fitting then that DeLillo, a native New Yorker, should address the defining moment of American life six years after 9/11. His new novel, "Falling Man," his 14th, begins and ends with terror, midair explosions and crumbled buildings. There have been many other Sept. 11 novels, but no other American writer seems as equipped to tell the story.
Still, the flaws of this slim novel are almost to be expected. The aftermath of 9/11 fits too neatly into the Big Ideas that DeLillo has about American society and culture. And we wonder if it is an accurate reflection of what we have become after Sept. 11.
"The River Knows" by Amanda Quick;
G.P. Putnam Sons, $24.95.
"The River Knows" is another compelling story with captivating characters, an intriguing plot, an engaging romance and even a dash of wit by Jayne Ann Krentz, penned under her historical-writing pseudonym, Amanda Quick.
Quick has created a female protagonist who captures the reader’s loyalty despite (or perhaps because of) the fact she doesn’t fit the mold of most Victorian-age heroines.
Louisa is a woman with a big secret and a little secret, neither hidden from readers. Anthony is a man on a mission. Louisa’s little secret is that she’s an undercover correspondent for a tabloid newspaper. When a story she is investigating coincides with Anthony’s mission, they become partners.
It’s a typical Quick book, just quirky enough to be fun and spun enough to be intriguing.
"Lessons on Living From Kate the Great" by Karen Karbo; Bloomsbury ($19.95)
Katharine Hepburn died at the age of 96 in 2003. "How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living From Kate the Great" has been published to coincide with what would have been her 100th birthday last month.
Karen Karbo’s scrappy little book chronicles the nodal points of Hepburn’s life and career, rehashes some of the more famous anecdotes about her, adds a generous dollop of lighthearted analysis, and inserts numerous bulleted, numbered and italicized lists of Hepburn’s habits, pastimes and opinions. It is hagiography with a touch of self-help — hence the title. Karbo wants to see her idol’s name become a verb.
For some readers, a little of this will go a long way, but for others, Karbo’s factoids and musings will be a source of joy. Some of us just can’t get enough Hepburnisms. We want to know how a young woman with sharp elbows, too many freckles and an affected accent managed to transform herself into a cultural icon.
"Sovereign" by C.J. Sansom; Viking ($25.95)
For even the most seasoned traveler, it was a nightmare of vile food, unsanitary conditions, endless waiting and testiness from those supposedly in charge of the journey. Today, we would reflexively assume that this had to be a trip to the airport in the forlorn hope of reaching one’s destination within the next week or so.
But in C.J. Sansom’s richly textured historical thriller "Sovereign," which is set in the 1540s and in the darkening twilight of Henry VIII’s grip on power, the description refers to what was loftily called a Royal Progress.
Here the monarch ventured to the farthest reaches of his realm at the head of a vast retinue to awe his subjects with displays of pomp that were hardly justified by the circumstances. And while Henry VIII made the progress with every creature comfort, his lesser courtiers and minor officials expected only the misery of trailing along in an endless cavalcade in his muddy wake.
"Sovereign" is the third installment of a series Sansom began with "Dissolution" and continued with "Dark Fire" — two stark re-creations of Henry’s England that proclaimed the arrival of a first-rate historical novelist.