by Diana Douglas Darrid

A familiar face on TV (The Cowboys) and onstage for decades, Diana Douglas Darrid never became a star like her first husband, Kirk Douglas, or their first son, Michael. But she certainly remembered her lines—and everyone else's—for this frank yet soft-hearted memoir. She writes that Kirk asked her to marry him because he thought it was the only way he could sleep with her. (He was wrong, and their sex was "omnivorous.") She also notes that the insecure actor began cheating on his bride almost from the beginning. Like father, like son: Michael (who wrote the preface to his mom's book) was shipped off to boarding school at 14, in part because he had already become a junior lothario.

She shines the same light on herself, detailing an abortion, a face-lift and therapy after the death of her beloved second husband, writer and producer Bill Darrid, in 1992. Darrid is less compelling when dramatizing her lifelong financial worries. She and Bill always seemed to be on the edge of the abyss—yet every other page they are jetting off to ski in Austria or buying another summer home. It's all relative. And those famous relatives don't hurt either. (Barricade, $22)

Bottom Line: Though the drama wears thin, a front-row seat

by Marian Keyes

Lucy Sullivan is not getting married, as the title would have you believe. But the narrator of Irish author Marian Keyes's trifling second novel would most definitely like to wed. Single, saucy and 26, Lucy hates her job at a London collection agency but loves to party. When a tarot-card-reading fortune-teller predicts Lucy's nuptials within a year, her girlfriends laugh in disbelief. But that's our gullible hero.

In fact, the whole book has a distinctly unsophisticated feel to it. Keyes stereotypes Australians as overly robust, Scots as tight with money and Americans as rude. And as Lucy's year slowly unfolds, and she addresses her alcoholism, family guilt and depression, the story displays all the nuance of an after-school TV special. Lucy and her pals are charming enough, but to American readers, their universe will seem oh so small. (Avon, $24)

Bottom Line: Too-simple tale of looking for Mr. Right

by Paul Alexander

J.D. Salinger, America's most famous literary hermit, successfully derailed one biographer's attempt to pry open his life by going to court in the '80s to keep unpublished letters private. He has no reason to protest Paul Alexander's effort. Since those close to Salinger have clammed up (ex-lover Joyce Maynard saved her goodies for her own tell-all), you won't learn anything important here, not even whether Salinger had a lousy childhood. The creepy fans who still make pilgrimages to Salinger's home nearly 50 years after the publication of The Catcher in the Rye stand a better chance of catching a glimpse of him than do readers of this bio. (Renaissance, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Slim pickings

by Kurt Vonnegut

To judge from the irony-drenched short stories in this collection, Kurt Vonnegut could have written some dandy scripts for those intellectual oases of '50s-'60s television, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. In fact, these 23 stories were first published in the '50s, many in magazines such as Collier's and the Saturday Evening Post, when Vonnegut was working in public relations at General Electric. The best of the stories, like Vonnegut's novels, profit from his aptitude for science-fiction fantasy. "Thanasphere," for instance, posits a zone around the Earth that holds the souls of the dead. And Vonnegut's ability to turn a felicitous sentence was already evident. In "The Cruise of the Jolly Roger," he writes of the soldier-of-fortune protagonist: "Women had once treated him like a little boy with special permission to eat icing off cakes." There are some clunkers in the collection—lines that sound painfully naive; a cranky and humorless epilogue—but all in all, a good showing. (Putnam, $24.95)

Bottom Line: The early Kurt gets the word

by John Darnton

Beach book of the week

In his bestselling first novel, 1996's Neanderthal, Darnton envisioned a band of pre-Homo sapiens creating havoc in Central Asia. In The Experiment, the action moves closer to home when a young man named Skyler escapes from a sinister island compound off Georgia, where he has been confined since birth.

Compelled by a book jacket picture of one Jude Harley—who appears to be his identical twin—Skyler arranges a meeting with the astonished journalist in New York City. A chilling genetic mystery quickens—and romance blossoms—when researcher Tizzie Tierney, who studies twins, becomes involved with the look-alikes. Soon the trio, harassed and threatened by forces unknown, are off on a dizzying chase from Arizona to Savannah. The Experiment can take a ghoulish turn at times, but it bubbles along with nary a mistake. (Dutton, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Sizzling technocaper

>RUN CATCH KISS Amy Sohn

Paralleling the life of its young author, an ex-sex columnist in New York City, this wry novel details the exploits of a recent college grad who finds her bliss as—surprise!—a sex columnist. (Simon & Schuster, $23)

SEE JANE WIN Dr. Sylvia Rimm The Today show's resident parenting expert surveys successful women to learn how childhood experiences such as team sports and travel inspired role models in fields like law, education and the arts. (Crown, $25)

THE KIND I'M LIKELY TO GET Ken Foster From a divorced bookstore clerk to a drug dealer for movie stars, the characters in this spare story collection grapple, ineptly and often amusingly, with their baroque, twisted fates. (Quill, $12)

  • Contributors:
  • Max Alexander,
  • Erica Sanders,
  • Victoria Balfour,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • J.D. Reed.