by Anne Tyler
Liam Pennywell is a genial man whose life has been beset by a series of failures that he accepts without argument. When we first meet him, at age 60, he has just lost his job teaching philosophy at a middling private school and plans to live out the rest of his life reading books and avoiding his nagging ex-wife, three grown daughters and sister. As the story begins, Liam is shaken out of his dormant state by an intruder who enters his new apartment on the outskirts of Baltimore and knocks him unconscious. With no memory of the blow, Liam becomes obsessed with reconstructing his missing hours and sets off on a series of improbable adventures that reawaken him to his past. The story itself is no page-turner; the burglary, a romance, a betrayal and a plot twist all feel more flat than the characters experiencing them. But the actors, who aside from Liam are almost all women, spring fully to life.
304 pages, $15, Ballantine Books
The Invisible Bridge
by Julie Orringer
Orringer's debut story collection, How to Breathe Underwater, was mostly set in contemporary America, and was concentrated, subtle and microcosmic — and won great praise. Now, her first novel is both a love story writ large and an almost epic ride through the history of Europe just before World War II. The hero is Andras Levi, a young Jewish Hungarian who moves to Paris to study architecture in 1937 and falls in love with an older Hungarian dance teacher as the Nazis start to gain power. Orringer's prose is unfaltering, and she shows remarkable skill in weaving together the two main sections of the novel — the first part, a coming-of-age story; and the second part, a tense account of a family threatened with war and hatred. It's a bold, ambitious move for an author's sophomore effort, but Orringer's fans won't be surprised to know that it pays off.
784 pages, $15.95, Vintage Books
by David Malouf
In Ransom, the Australian novelist David Malouf re-imagines one of the great sequences in Homer's Iliad, and, many would say, in all of Western literature. It's the section where Priam, king of the soon-to-be-defeated Trojans, crosses the battle lines in disguise to plead with warrior Achilles for the body of his son Hector, whom Achilles has just slaughtered in combat. From this ancient material, Malouf hauls in his own cartload of treasure, a stately rendering of a magnificent poetic sequence. The landscape is starkly beautiful as the light changes from evening to night to dawn. Achilles' reception of the grieving king is also stark and memorable. You've seen the movie? Now read the novel made from one of the foundation poems of our culture.
240 pages, $14.95, Vintage Books
The Male Brain
by Louann Brizendine, M.D.
What makes a male a male? Why, his brain, of course. And because he has 2.5 times the brain space devoted to sexual pursuit compared with a female, a book about it makes the reading, well, sexy. Hormonal love potions can soften the toughest male, but women often notice that men's usual social behavior can depart quite a bit from the female way. Hence Brizendine's premise that under the influence of unique neural connections, the male brain simply follows other rules. Men, for example, may seem to respond to their girlfriends' distress with emotional distance. Brizendine rescues the male's reputation. Unlike the female, whose brain's empathic mirror neuron system is always active in these situations, the male brain's empathy system quickly hands the task over to the temporal-parietal junction, the problem-solving brain station. So, really, they could be listening. This sequel to Brizendine's best-selling The Female Brain is lucid, conversational and engaging, a result of her years in psychiatry and sexual medicine.