Photographs by Michael O'Neill, text by Carolyn Fireside

Michael O'Neill is an accomplished portrait photographer whose luminary subjects (Orson Wiles, Paul Newman, Glenn Close, Jodie Poster) usually grant him their undivided attention and complete cooperation. Tell that to a potbellied piglet.

Visiting half a dozen zoos around the country to photograph baby animals, many of them endangered species, O'Neill would set up lights and a sheet of seamless background paper in a spare room and await the arrival of his often-unwilling subject. Sleeping Beauty, an 8-month-old potbellied pig residing at the Cincinnati Zoo, was more interested in clambering onto the lap of her human keeper than in sitting—or just standing still—for the photographer. Each time O'Neill would approach, she would squeal so piercingly he finally had to steel himself with earplugs. In the book, she looks utterly unassuming and demure, evidence not only that photographs can mislead, but that humans cannot resist imparting human qualities even to creatures with corrugated snouts and bristles sprouting from every pore.

"I never knew what to expect," O'Neill writes. "A tiger snarled from only a foot away, an alligator jumped high off of the floor, and an orangutan wouldn't let go of my camera. As I do when making any portrait, I tried to find the essential characteristics of each personality."

When that personality is determined to scurry offstage, like the armadillo or the timber wolf, the results are unremarkable. But when O'Neill can get close and the lighting falls just right, as with the Indian elephant, the white alligator and the Sumatran tiger. the pictures arc arresting and graphically fascinating. In these cases, even O'Neill's human subjects couldn't have given him more. (Villard, $17.00)

by Jean Howard

Cole Porter, one of America's greatest songwriters and bons vivants, did not travel light. Heading off on an extended sightseeing tour of the Continent in 1955, he took along more than 30 pieces of luggage, as many guidebooks as possible, his own Cadillac with red leather interior (New York license plate CP 11), a collapsible wheelchair and copious medical supplies (a 1937 horse-riding accident had crushed Porter's legs) and several vivacious pals.

One of those pals was Jean Howard, a minor 1930s Ziegfeld show girl and Hollywood hostess turned photographer. Using some 300 photographs, letters, diary entries and her own remembrances. Howard has now put together this coffee-table volume about her friendship with Porter and the pair of three-month grand tours of Europe and the Middle East they took in 1955 and '56. It is her second book, following the zippy collection Jean Howard's Hollywood (1989). Unfortunately, it is a disappointingly pallid effort.

"I adored Cole, and I had always found him a delight....To travel with him was another matter," she writes. Her kvetches? He planned their itineraries down to the tiniest detail; he turned "ice-cold" if a companion deviated from his program; and he threw a hissy fit if someone showed up a few minutes late for dinner.

Travels features plenty of estimable pictures of Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Istanbul—and of Porter. Though he hated to be photographed, he nonetheless managed always to appear as if he had just visited his haberdasher. Where Howard comes up short is in her eye-glazing travelogue prose and sketchy portrait of Porter, which fails to convey a sense of his allure and creativity.

The reader never finds out what the two discussed over dinner during their long months together (others came and went, but Howard and Porter were the constant), who paid for what, or what it was about travel that so excited Porter. Howard is also evasive in ways that are no longer necessary. It is well known today that Porter was homosexual, but the author never says so, and the reader is left to wonder what exactly Howard means by describing one male buddy as "Cole's last intimate friend." C'mon, lady, inquiring minds want to know. (Abrams, $39.95)

by Judith Michael

It's rather frightening to consider that it actually took two people (Judith Michael in the pen name of a husband-wife team) to turn out this novel. On the other hand, perhaps it's better that Judith Barnard and Michael Fain write together rather than separately; otherwise, there could he two novels like Sleeping Beauty.

The heroine is shy, gangly Anne Chatham, scion of fabulously successful Chicago land developers. At 13, she is raped by her short, blond, handsome, crinkly-grinnned snake of an uncle, Vince. The sexual abuse continues until Anne's 15th-birthday party, where she reveals the brutishness to the rest of the family. Their skepticism (particularly that of her father, Charles, and grandfather Ethan, the Chatham patriarch) leaves Anne distraught. She runs away to Haight Ashbury, changes her last name to Garnett, hangs out, gets bored, enrolls at Berkeley, subsequently graduates from Harvard Law School and becomes a high-powered divorce lawyer, revealing nothing about her horrific past.

"She was like a chiseled goddess in one of the great royal tombs of Egypt," notes one of the novel's key characters, "flat, frozen, aloof....He wondered what had frozen Anne Garnett so that she was only a partial woman...." Meanwhile, misogynistic Uncle Vince, ostracized from the family—grandfather Ethan, it turns out, believed every word of Anne's story—becomes a wealthy, powerful real estate mogul in Colorado, then a Senator, and there is loud, serious talk of his making a run for the White House, until Anne comes out of hiding to attend Ethan's funeral. Will Anne spill the beans about Vince, thus crushing his hopes for the key to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Will Vince, a quick hand at getting rid of people who block his way, succeed in eliminating Anne and vengefully decimating the Chatham fortune? Will a prince show up to wake the sleeping beauty? With one-dimensional characters, plotting that signals its intention 100 pages in advance and soap opera sound bites like "Everything you've done to this family has been as foul as your tongue.... You've left a trail of evil. You don't have the right to call yourself Ethan Chatham's son," few will care. (Poseidon, $22.00)

by Stephen King

Stephen King is about as review-proof as any author this side of L. Ron Hubbard, whose frequent appearances on the best-seller list are unaffected by his being almost six years dead. So in reviewing King's latest novel, Needful Timings, I'll jump ahead to the only fact of interest to his legion of fans: The book is 687 pages long. Unfortunately, they're tedious pages.

Needful Things hews closely to King's Ur-plot, a sturdy construction employed in such previous King novels as Salem's Lot, It, The Stand and The Tommyknockers. The standard précis: a band of social misfits saves their town from evil incarnate. This time around we've got a harelipped 13-year-old, an arthritic seamstress and a widower sheriff, all of whom square off against a fey shopkeeper named Leland Gaunt. Six hundred pages later readers are grappling with sentences like "The Gaunt-thing hissed and shook his claws at them."

The journey from Gaunt to Gaunt-thing never catches hold, however, and the novel collapses into a ruin of mechanical plotting. King seems to have forgotten that a character's death prompts no reaction unless some characterization has been done, and Needful Things becomes merely page after page of death-by-numbers exercise. (Viking, $24.95)

>THE POP-UP BOOK OF GHOST TALES Illus. by Korky Paul

PAUL TAKES AN ABBOTT and Costello-style approach to these five classics: The doomed sailors of "The Flying Dutchman" protest with bugged eyes and flailing limbs; the "Room 13" hotel-keeper is so comically creepy that he could compete with his unregistered guest; the eerie reveler at "The Masque of the Red Death" appears to be dipped in cream soda, not blood. Though the pop-up features are fairly humdrum (except for the Dutchman and a splendidly grotesque sea monster), the text provides a solid introduction to such horror masters as Bram Stoker and Edgar Allan Poe. Designed for children 8 and up, it will be enjoyed by some younger, braver siblings. (Gulliver/HBJ, $14.95)

  • Contributors:
  • Eric Levin,
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • John Tayman,
  • Susan Toepfer.