by Milton Bass

Every bookstore is lined with novels and nonfiction about political skulduggery in Washington. This book is about how difficult it is to be an honest, effective mayor in a small town. When Bill Costain is elected, he finds he is completely unprepared for the job. He bumbles around, pressured from all sides. Cynicism usually is the trait that makes heroes like Costain interesting, but here an appealing sadness pervades almost every page. Not Quite a Hero is original and effective. (Putnam, $8.95)

by Robert Coover

History provides the grist for bloated, grotesque parody in this 534-page novel in which Ethel Rosenberg and Nixon, incredibly, have a brief fling before she and Julius are executed in Times Square. Coover not only jams in the name of every notable person of the period, but he rattles off song titles, outworn obscenities, puns and utterly bizarre juxtapositions of disgusting details. His view is violently imaginative and altogether unpleasant. The writing is so elaborate and overwrought that the novel is like a meal made up of cheesecake, whipped cream, sawdust, sugar and rotten crab claws. (Viking, $12.95)

by Rita Mae Brown

"Carrie considered instant coffee a sign of moral degeneracy and she was bound to make me fresh coffee even if it killed her." Brown has an uncanny way of revealing fundamental characteristics in offhand ways that are delightful. Her freewheeling tale of a Southern pore white growing up to be a cynical lesbian is raunchy and funny. Rate it X, but if you're over 21, read it. More than 70,000 copies were sold underground before Bantam picked it up. (Bantam, $1.95)