by Dennis Rodman with Tim Keown

Dennis Rodman is among the most dynamic, entertaining athletes of his time. Or he's the embodiment of everything crass and unruly about modern sports. Or he's a hotheaded nonconformist prone to piercing his body and stripping in public. Or he's all of these things and a savvy self-promoter to boot.

Whatever your take on the Rodman experience, there's no denying that the Chicago Bulls' hard-driving, hair-dying power forward is one colorful character. His latest act of exhibitionism assaults the senses with a brazen book jacket that features three shots of a butt-naked Rodman (will this guy ever come out of his shell?). What's inside is even more revealing, as the NBA's perennial leader in rebounds, tattoos (he's got 11) and childish outbursts (he was recently suspended for head-butting a referee) writes with profane candor about playing basketball ("We're professional prostitutes"), race ("A black player knows he can go out on the court and kick a white player's ass"), his own sexuality ("I fantasize about being with another man") and, of course, Madonna ("...it was clear the opportunity was there for marriage if I had been thinking that way"). Rodman explains that he turned down the Maternal Girl's proposal that he father her child because "being Mr. Madonna would have been a tough thing to overcome."

Overcoming, it turns out, is Rodman's central theme. He is rightly boastful about having survived a broken home, poverty and fascination with death to become a champion, though his harsh criticism of teammates, coaches and NBA brass reveals a residue of bitterness and a persecution complex. And while much of Rodman's rebelliousness seems like an act, he also comes across here as a fiercely proud misfit who simultaneously wants to shock the world and be embraced by it. (Delacorte, $22.95)

by Mark Matousek

Can a man who has been put through the wringer by life—childhood abuse, the death of his closest friends and, finally, HIV infection—actually write a memoir free of self-pity? Mark Matousek, a former senior editor at Interview magazine, has done it. Even more remarkably, he has written a book about New Age fulfillment without once sounding flaky. Of course, his book still requires some suspension of disbelief. Skeptics won't believe, for instance, that Indian mystics like the one whom Matousek found in Germany can truly identify the path to wisdom and self-knowledge. But even if you don't buy this book's spiritual conclusions, you'll find it hard not to admire a man so determined to find deeper meaning in a difficult life.

Matousek began his search after a vacation in Jamaica in 1986. There, at the beach, he spotted on the sole of his best friend's foot a purple lesion the size of a dime. At that moment, he knew his friend was going to die, and he suspected that he too, as a gay man who had lived a less than circumspect life, would eventually succumb to AIDS. He also realized that what he was most afraid of was dying in his current state: cynical, soulless and without belief in God.

The ensuing years are described in detail—with many painful and personal particulars but in prose that sings. At the book's close, at the guru's home in Germany, Matousek comes to a realization of life's wonders in a scene that will leave no reader unmoved. (Riverhead, $22.95)

by Roddy Doyle

He loved me and he beat me," says the heroine of Doyle's searing, finely wrought new novel. "I loved him and I took it. It's as simple as that, and as stupid and complicated."

For 17 years pretty, quick-witted Paula Spencer, a working-class Irish housewife, served as her husband Charlo's punching bag, enduring cigarette burns, broken bones, blackened eyes—even losing a pregnancy to Charlo's quick-trigger rage. The Woman Who Walked into Doors is 39-year-old Paula's clear-eyed look back at those harrowing, dark years, written after she has thrown Charlo onto the streets and he has been killed by police after committing a murder.

Doyle—who won Britain's Booker Prize in 1993 for Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha, his journey into the mind of a 10-year-old boy—has pulled off another successful impersonation. Paula's voice rings entirely true, and the story of her hemmed-in, small-town life—from the dreary schools that stifled her intelligence to the sexism that made slut or wife the two viable career options for girls—helps render her fear of leaving the charismatic Charlo comprehensible. "I was with Charlo Spencer," Paula says of their early days. "He was the king, and that made me someone."

Doyle, a native of Ireland, has called domestic violence "one of the great secrets of Irish society." He and Paula have let the secret out for good. (Viking, $22.95)

by David Guterson

James Joyce called them epiphanies: those flashes of insight when the haze clears, meaning crystallizes and suddenly we exclaim, "Eureka!" Of course, most of us emit something less euphoric, like, "Oh, now I get it." Such lesser revelations comprise the moments Guterson depicts in this astute story collection, originally published in 1989 and now reissued in the wake of his celebrated 1995 novel, Snow Falling on Cedars.

Compared to that work, the prose in these 10 tales of choices made or missed is more studied. It's as if Guterson wrote "American Elm"—in which an elderly loner confronts his mortality—as a way to practice loose, complex sentence structures, or created the elegiac "The Flower Garden," with its echoes of Hawthorne, as a writing-class exercise in remembering lost loves.

But so what if, occasionally, the seams show? Guterson's Pacific Northwest settings are engaging; his language is precise. And for most of his brooding, compassionate characters, what begin as evocative tales of reflection and memory lead to moments of vivid understanding. (Vintage, $11)

by Louise Erdrich

When the first blizzard of 1995 hit the Upper Midwest, no one saw it coming, and for the four women snowbound in a Ford Explorer, the night's only warmth comes from the stories they tell one another. Tales of Burning Love, Erdrich's fifth novel set in this wind-whipped, fable-filled landscape, is a remarkable, though sometimes rambling, collection of vignettes charged by the passions of these women and the difficult man they all love and married.

In the 20 years since his first wife walked out on him in Erdrich's first novel, Love Medicine (1984), Jack Mauser has not seen his luck improve. When his fifth wife leaves him, he goes on a binge, lets their home burn to the ground and takes the opportunity to stage his own death. After his funeral, his exes gather and take up their unfinished business with him. Love—such as it is—emerges as "a raw force, frail as blossoms, tough as catgut wire."

With the snow piling high, Erdrich fashions images of desire as intricate as the leaf-shaped patterns of frost left by the women's breath on the car's windows. Though at times her focus is scattered and the sentiment melodramatic, her beautiful writing and the sharp portraits of these women electrify this Scheherazade-like litany of longing, loss and redemption. (HarperCollins, $25)

by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

Sincere, sentimental and sudsy, this debut novel, set in the '40s and '50s, zeroes in on a black South Philadelphia couple who are struggling to reconcile their individual desires with family obligations. Herbie, a redcap at the train station, lusts after Ethel, the local torch singer billed as "voice of the century." He's married to Noon, a "good churchgoing woman" who desperately wants children but is barren despite the healing prayers of her cherished Reverend Schell.

When Herbie finds a baby girl in a box on their front steps, Noon thanks God and names her Fannie. Some years later, Ethel deposits her young niece Liz on the same steps and hightails it to New York City's Harlem to sing with the big boys. The girls grow into young women as their security is threatened by a plot to demolish the neighborhood's row houses.

The men in Tumbling are transparent and one-dimensional; the women have the secrets and the strengths. They sacrifice for their children and rail against the power of the system. McKinney-Whetstone's first effort showcases her ear for dialogue, but the revelations are a little too fuzzy and the redemptions too easy for this novel to have profound impact. (Morrow, $24)

by Nancy Bell

Page-Turner of the Week

BIGGIE WEATHERFORD IS AN ECCENTRIC of Lone Star state proportions. As her neighbors in the East Texas town of Job's Crossing know—and readers of this deliciously funny mystery will soon discover—Biggie would rather literally cool her heels in her fridge than use air-conditioning and keeps supper's catfish swimming in the toilet bowl. But she really hits her stride when she and her 11-year-old grandson J.R. start investigating some spooky events, including a car bombing and a death over angel food cake.

As it turns out, food—much of it savory Cajun cooking by Biggie's maid—plays a key role in this first novel from Bell, a sorority house mother at the University of Texas in Austin. But along with all the fried chicken and gumbo (recipe provided), Bell serves up a tangy puzzler and a banquet of saucy characters—who definitely rate a return visit. (St. Martin's, $21.95)

>Mary Higgins Clark

A CLEAN-CUT CASE

SHE IS THE MASTER OF WHAT THE British call cozy mysteries, a seeming anachronism in this age of blood-soaked thrillers. "Schools put them on reading lists for 12-year-olds," says Mary Higgins Clark, "because there is no sex or violence." Yet it amuses Clark when fans refer to her books as "clean." "The first," she notes of 1975's Where Are the Children?, "was about childhood sexual molestation. It's not the subject but the way you treat the subject." With more than 30 million copies of her 15 titles in print in the U.S., Clark is doing something right.

The author of the new Moonlight Becomes You says she is happy to see other female suspense writers rising to the top. "There's more room for us today," Clark says. Though she cites Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwall as favorites, her tastes are broad. "My new book starts with a woman buried alive. So I read Down to Earth, about funeral practices through the ages."

Clark, 65, lives in New Jersey near her five children (with airline executive Warren Clark) and six grandchildren. A widow for 32 years, she says she has no particular desire to remarry ("I made such a good choice at 21") and is enjoying the life of "an aging debutante. I have three buddies, all widows, and we go on trips together."

Those far-flung adventures, though, will someday come to an end. "In 1974, before I published Where Are the Children?" she recalls, "I went to a fortune teller. She told me, 'You're going to make a great deal of money and be famous. You'll live to old age and die abroad.' So after 80, I'll quit traveling."

  • Contributors:
  • Alex Tresniowski,
  • Clare McHugh,
  • Kim Hubbard,
  • V.R. Peterson,
  • Thomas Curwen,
  • Louisa Ermelino,
  • Pam Lambert,
  • Susan Toepfer.