Originally created 02/11/06

New books own up to being a novel, not memoir



Although it has only recently come to light that James Frey fabricated parts of his 2003 memoir "A Million Little Pieces," a new "memoir" makes no bones about being fiction.

In "The Secret Memoirs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis" (St. Martin's Press), novelist Ruth Francisco imagines what an autobiography by the former first lady would have been like had she written one.

Francisco writes in the voice of Onassis recalling her privileged youth, the White House years, motherhood, widowhood and marriage to Aristotle Onassis.

"The Secret Memoirs" is among a slew of new hardcover books, which include novels by Jay McInerney, Jackie Collins and Timothy Zahn; and nonfiction, including books by a French writer who toured the U.S. and a woman who posed as a man, and the final volume in a trilogy about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the U.S. civil rights movement.

In McInerney's "The Good Life" (Knopf), the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have an unexpected effect on the lives of two wealthy Manhattan couples mired in dismal marriages - an uptown banker and his wife, and a downtown editor and his wife. The editor's wife and the banker meet as volunteers at a soup kitchen for ground zero rescue workers, where they fall in love and plan a future together.

An eventful week at the New York home of billionaire Red Diamond unfolds in Collins' "Lovers & Players" (St. Martin's Press). While Diamond's three sons - a lawyer, a model and a real-estate tycoon - are visiting, one son seduces his brother's fiancee, the housekeeper's teenage daughter is pursued by a hip-hop star, and another son's ex-wife is found murdered.

In Zahn's seventh "Star Wars" novel, "Outbound Flight" (Ballantine), a Jedi master gets the go-ahead for the Outbound Flight Project, in which a giant space vessel would take 50,000 people on a years-long journey to search and explore beyond the known world. The mission launches with the support of an unlikely ally who, it turns out, is counting on the project's failure.

"American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville" (Random House) is French journalist and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy's chronicle of his yearlong trek throughout America, visiting prisons, Muslim communities, Amish enclaves , Nevada brothels among many other places. Levy offers a foreigner's take on American life and culture, and expresses his view of what it means to be an American.

Norah Vincent also journeyed to a "foreign" land - the world of men. In "Self-Made Man" (Viking), the former Los Angeles Times columnist describes an experiment in which she posed as a man for 18 months - with the help of a voice coach, makeup artist and crew cut - as both participant and observer. Her aim: to discover if it is, indeed, a man's world or if being a man is harder than some might think.

"At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68" (Simon & Schuster) by Taylor Branch is the hefty - 1,000 pages, including notes and index - concluding volume to the "King Years" historical trilogy about the U.S. civil rights movement. (The second volume won a Pulitzer Prize.) It begins and ends with violence - from the police-suppressed voting-rights march from Selma, Ala., to King's assassination in Memphis, Tenn.

More fiction

Historical fiction includes "An Imperfect Lens" (Shaye Areheart) by Anne Roiphe, in which a French scientific team attempts to find a cure for cholera during the 1880s epidemic in Alexandria, Egypt; and "Rasputin's Daughter" (Viking) by Robert Alexander, Rasputin's last days as recorded by his spunky teenage daughter, Maria.

Strange goings-on go on in "Full Moon Rising" (Bantam) by Keri Arthur, in which a half-vampire, half-werewolf agent for the Australian government searches for her missing twin brother; and in "The Thin Place" (Little, Brown), Kathryn Davis' story of a summer in a small New England town where only a "thin place" separates the real world from the spirit world.

Children are prominent players in "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits" (Doubleday), Ayelet Waldman's story about a woman who grieves for the infant she lost while she tries to deal with her difficult stepson; and in "Behold the Many" (FSG) by Lois-Ann Yamanaka, about three orphaned sisters in 1913 Hawaii who are able to communicate with each other even after two have died of tuberculosis.

And "My Lucky Star" (Little, Brown) is Joe Keenan's comic tale about two struggling screenwriters assigned to adapt a sappy World War II novel into a vehicle for two Hollywood superstars.

More nonfiction

Memoirs from Pulitzer Prize winners include "My Battle of Algiers" (Smithsonian-Collins) by historian Ted Morgan, who recalls serving with the French army in the Algerian War for Independence in the mid-1950s; and "A Strong West Wind" (Random House) by Gail Caldwell, the Boston Globe's books critic, who writes about growing up on the Texas Panhandle.

Books about relationships include "You're Wearing That?" (Random House), Deborah Tannen's study of the relationship between mothers and their adult daughters through their conversations; "The Year of Yes" (Hyperion), Maria Dahvana Headley's chronicle of her one-year search for Mr. Right in which she went out with all 150 men who invited her; and "Money, a Memoir" (Henry Holt), Liz Perle's study of women's emotional relationship with money and its effect on other aspects of their lives.

In "Last Dance" (Little, Brown), John Feinstein provides an inside look at college basketball's Final Four tournament as he tracks the teams that participated in 2005's games; and detectives and Union cavalry track down John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin, in "Manhunt" (William Morrow) by James L. Swanson.

Two Democrats, James Carville and Paul Begala, call on their party to reclaim political power and change the course of the country in "Take It Back" (Simon & Schuster).

In "FutureShop" (The Penguin Press), Daniel Nissanoff reports on the online-auction phenomenon and predicts that its explosive growth will revolutionize shopping habits.

And you might have more money to spend at those online auctions - but probably not - if you take the tongue-in-cheeck financial advice offered by humorist Dave Barry in "Dave Barry's Money Secrets" (Crown).