by Daniel Evan Weiss

Most of us don't need book-length academic documentation of the chasm that divides the genders. We have, after all, had life-length practical experience in studying the phenomenon, which is akin to, say, the difference between rhinos and gazelles: The number of heads, bodies and limbs are the same, but the style and substance vary. Then there's the horniness factor.

Anyway, this book, consisting entirely of statistical surveys of female-male differences in attitude and experience, is more fascinating than it ought to be. For instance, Weiss reports that in homes with TV remote controls, females control the remote 34 percent of the time, men 55 percent. Nineteen percent of wives "say that sometimes their spouses are like gods to them," while 36 percent of husbands say their wives are like goddesses. Fifty percent of married women and 77 percent of married men "would marry the same person if they had it to do all over again."

Weiss, whose book 100% American was a similar batch of data culled from various surveys, lists his sources in the back of the book. They range from Harris and Roper polls to Popeye's Spice in Your Life Series.

Most of the figures seem reasonable, though, however odd or depressing. Thirty-four percent of females and 32 percent of males "think there are spirits or ghosts in the world that make their presence known to living people"; 57 percent of females and 61 percent of males aged 13-17 say they have cheated on a test; 5 percent of females and 7 percent of males like vacuuming.

Weiss gets a little flip at times. The section of surveys on cocaine use is headed "Females and Males Take It up the Nose." Statistics are eminently manipulable at best, and some here just don't track. Weiss says, for instance, that of women 18 and older, 19 percent are single and 61 percent are married, apparently leaving 20 percent stranded on The Dating Game.

Still, his book is eminently browse-worthy and should provide fuel for more than one dinner table argument. For instance-not to start anything—not only do men have more brains than women (by about a quarter-pound), they have more heart (two ounces more). No information seems to be available about the spleen. (Poseidon, $21.95)

by Sarah Gilbert

The protagonist of this novel, Dixie Riggs of Myrtle Beach, S.C., has some things going for her: long dark hair, a good figure, pluck and a full, rich imagination. Unfortunately she also has an amazingly inaccurate view of herself—"I know how to take things as far as they can go before they shouldn't go any further"—and amazingly poor judgment about men.

Worse, her story is often too off-color, too distasteful, too redneck—and pretentiously so. The author thinks she's being sassy, when she's just being vulgar.

Dixie has gone and lost her heart to Buck Speed, a bodybuilder who has dreams of winning the Mr. Universe contest and making his name a household word. And when his name gets into enough households, he thinks, he will become a televangelist, "bringing the name of the Lord right into you as you sat on your own sofa." It's a lofty ambition but difficult to live with. Every time the two make love, Buck drags Dixie off the bed, onto her knees and into "his strange idea of afterplay: prayer."

Distraught, Dixie finally resorts to taking a course at Renee Dupree's World of Fashion Modeling. It will just be a matter of time before Dixie's on the cover of Vogue and Buck is on his knees praying for her return. And all this might have happened except for a few things: some porno pictures, a wet T-shirt contest, Dixie's injudicious use of a credit card belonging to Buck's mother and the intrusions of Dixie's much-married mother, LeDaire, and the woman Dixie considers her best friend, Sparkle Starling.

Some of Gilbert's second novel (Hairdo was the first) is mildly funny. But there's a repetitiveness to Dixie's misadventures, and Ms. Riggs isn't engaging enough a heroine to compensate for all the novel's shortcomings. (Warner, $ 18.95)

by Michael Korda

The protagonists of this overblown novel are dashing, brilliant, handsome Robert Vane (read Laurence Olivier) and the beautiful, fastidious, mercurial, unbalanced Felicia Lisle (read Vivien Leigh)—the greatest theater couple of their generation. Lisha I may have cast a longer shadow in 1940s Hollywood—after all, she won an Oscar for] her portrayal of a Southern belle—but Robby carries off the palm for achievement onstage. Of course, the drama Vane and Lisle whip up onstage isn't a patch to the drama offstage. In fact, Vane and Lisle have a lot of trouble keeping straight just when the curtain's up and when it's down:

"Vane felt, as he so often did when he was with Felicia, the blurring of that fine line between acting and life. Sometimes he didn't know whether he was acting out a love scene with her or genuinely making love. It was a torment to him that often he couldn't tell the difference."

Indeed, when he comes to visit Felicia at the sanitarium that the actress retreats to after suffering a nervous breakdown during the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, Vane manages to play himself only with the most supreme concentration:

"He knew his lines. 'I need you and I love you,' he said in a firm, low voice. 'I want you home, beside me, forever. Now.' "

Felicia "knew her lines too. I'll never leave you again, Robby,' she said. 'I promise.'

"They embraced, heads turned toward Dr. Vogel, as if waiting for applause."

Korda, author of Queenie, effectively evokes both pre-World War II Hollywood with its vulpine producers and excesses and London's theatrical world. He is, however, less successful in evoking Robert and Felicia. For all Korda talks about their love, their passion, the magic between them, the book deals mostly with the period after the pair's happy years, and a reader can only take it on faith that here is a couple whose union only death could put asunder.

Frankly, they are a tiresome pair, unworthy of a reader's sympathy: Lisha with her absurd jealousies and vanities; Vane, who veers from foolishly uxorious to a man whose devotion to the theater takes a backseat to no one. And the novel's climax is harder to choke down than an uncut version of King Lear. (Summit, $19.95)

>LONDON FIELDS The year is 1999; the style encompasses dark satire and double entendres; the mood is bleak in Martin Amis's erotic sixth novel about a premillennium murder. (Vintage)

THEN SHE FOUND ME

In Elinor Lipman's wry novel, high school Latin teacher April Epner, an adopted child, is reunited with her biological mother—the loud, seemingly superficial, pseudocelebrity host of a Boston TV talk show. (Washington Square Press)

BECAUSE IT IS BITTER, AND BECAUSE IT IS MY HEART A violent death in upstate New York sets the tone for this provocative Joyce Carol Oates novel about racial injustice and adolescent pain in the 1950s. (Plume)

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Joanne Kaufman.