MONICA: FROM FEAR TO VICTORY
by Monica Seles with Nancy Ann Richardson

The world was shocked in April 1993 when an obsessed fan of tennis star Steffi Graf leaped onto a Hamburg, Germany, court during a tournament, pulled out a nine-inch knife and stabbed 19-year-old Monica Seles, the world's top-ranked woman player. Almost as shocking is the fact that while Seles lay hospitalized in serious condition, her fellow players voted not to protect her ranking; few of them bothered to call or visit. (Graf dropped by the hospital but then made herself scarce.)

Five months later, Seles faced another setback when a German judge released her attacker, Günther Parche, on two years' probation. "I'd spend the next two years in the jail he was supposed to inhabit," she writes in this candid, compelling autobiography. The metaphor is apt: The well-adjusted and stable Seles plunged into a deep depression, couldn't leave her house, binged on junk food and relived the attack in frequent nightmares—even as her father-mentor waged (winning) battles with prostate and stomach cancer.

With the help of a psychotherapist and her tight-knit family, Seles by last year had made her way back to top form (and a shared No. 1 ranking). Her story underscores the sad fact that—as her assailant discovered—stars are far more vulnerable and far less protected than most of us think. (Harper Collins, $23)

MASON'S RETREAT
by Christopher Tilghman

In this seductive but thin first novel, Tilghman returns to Maryland's Eastern Shore, the location of his acclaimed 1990 short story collection, In a Father's Place. The retreat of the title is a crumbling Chesapeake Bay estate—a family inheritance that American Edward Mason claims by default when the Depression devastates his tool business in Manchester, England, where he has lived for the last 10 years. It's a last-ditch move but, as Edward's attempts to be a gentleman farmer fail, the rest of the Masons thrive in their new world: long-suffering wife Edith takes a lover; sweet young Simon is happy as ever; and even sullen, 13-year-old Sebastien, who despises his father, makes friends with one of the farm's hired hands.

Tilghman is a master of mood and atmosphere; the sense of foreboding and his brisk, surefooted plot suck the reader into an unfolding family tragedy. But he often strives too hard for eloquence and meaning, most jarringly in the book's didactic epilogue. Some things are better left unsaid. (Random House, $22)

EDOUARD MANET
by Beth Archer Rombert

His friend Emile Zola once said that Manet "never had the foolishness of wanting to insert ideas into his paintings." As Rombert sees it, however, he inserted much more, using his canvases as a cryptograph of his life—especially of his marriage to Suzanne Leenhoff, his former mistress and the mother of Leon, long presumed to be Manet's son. Rombert offers a familiar portrait of Manet the enigma: the godfather of the Impressionists who was never quite one of them; the elegant boulevardier who liked the bohemian life yet yearned for the Légion d'Honneur. But she treats the paintings like Rorschach tests, finding clues to Manet's anguish about his secret paternity where others might see only esthetic impulses.

What makes this amateur psychoanalysis exasperating is that it detracts from an otherwise engrossing exploration of Manet's life. His training, his perennial squabbles with boneheaded academicians and his friendships with, among others, Charles Baudelaire and Berthe Morisot are so diligently researched that even non-Francophiles are likely to find the glimpses of 19th-century Parisian life compelling. (Little, Brown, $29.95)

COYOTE V. ACME
by Ian Frazier

One minute, a few young airheads are sunning themselves around a Long Island, N.Y., swimming pool. The next minute, the German army invades. " 'Move out! To the trees! It's our only chance!' Nat shouts, as the rain of spent shell casings on the tile roof sounds a grim counterpoint to his hoarse command." Just another day in the off-kilter world of Ian Frazier's imagination. Elsewhere in this collection of short humor pieces, Frazier imagines Boswell, the biographer of Dr. Johnson, turning his literary eye to the life of Don Johnson. And when, in another flight of fancy, the cartoon Coyote can't catch the Road Runner, he does the human thing: He files a lawsuit.

At his best, Frazier's absurd vision is as trenchant as it is boyish—as in "Thanks for the Memory," a hilariously cruel parody of Bob Hope's drifting memoirs. But other times his conceits fall short (can anyone build a humor piece out of a bank statement?) or miss the mark altogether (an insurance form for soap opera characters doesn't advance the sudsy travails of daytime TV). Frazier—the author of brilliant, serious narratives like Family and Great Plains—may not be the funniest writer alive, as a jacket blurb proclaims, but he may well have the weirdest imagination. And when his creations come anywhere near this solar system—which they do more often than not in Coyote—climb aboard. You're in for quite a ride. (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, $17)

TESSIE AND PEARLIE
by Joy Horowitz

This irresistible tribute by a doting granddaughter to her two Jewish bubbes skips the sermons about family values to show us the real thing. Tessie is the unsentimental one, as pragmatic and stoic as she is resistant to overt expressions of affection. Pearlie is the romantic, a gushing font of love and advice. Yet, as these widowed nonagenarians come into focus, Horowitz shows that both women's lives revolve around the same principle: "In the end, all that matters is the love we've shared while alive."

With patience and wit, Horowitz coaxes her feisty grandmothers to share their timeless recipes for stomach and soul. Gradually, Tessie, 94, owns up to her unease about a second marriage; Pearlie, 93, admits to the pain of dealing with an alcoholic husband. And sex? Pearlie: "It was always with love and kissing that we worked up to passion." Tessie: "Sex, schmex."

Though affection oozes from every page, Horowitz also extracts her bubbes' prejudices, demands and fears, including their unflinching view of aging. Tessie misses her sense of touch; Pearlie bemoans her thinning breasts. Both obsess about death. Tessie: "I started the twentieth century. I hope I don't finish it." Pearlie: "You find it interesting enough to want to stay." In the end, the two women teach Horowitz an invaluable lesson: "It is out of the wreckage of loss that life can take its most unexpected, sometimes joyful turns." (Scribner's, $21)

THE VISITING PHYSICIAN
by Susan Richards Shreve

The citizenry of mythical Meridian, Ohio, a town "remarkable for its generosity of spirit," dates the beginnings of its bad times to the arrival of a TV film crew making a documentary on "a pure product of America." Suddenly, a mysterious illness attacks the children, the town's only doctor abruptly departs, and a little girl is missing. Helen Fielding, a resident in pediatrics, answers the town's plea for a visiting physician but fails to mention that she's no stranger. As a child, she vacationed here until a tragedy decimated her family. It's an intriguing premise, but Shreve fails to capitalize on it. Because the case she makes for Meridian's erstwhile purity is unconvincing, the town's disintegration has less force. And Shreve ought to have more faith in her readers. They don't need her to state her theme—the gap between appearance and reality—so often and so obviously. (Doubleday, $23.95)

GRAND JURY
by Philip Friedman

Beach Book of the Week

BESTSELLING COURTROOM NOVELIST Friedman (Inadmissible Evidence, Reasonable Doubt) must charge by the pound, because lurking inside this obese, 595-page tome is a svelte 280-page-size thriller. Susan Lin-wood and David Clark meet on page 6 as members of a New York State grand jury looking into drug trafficking. Their predictable romance is not consummated until 400 turgid pages later. In the interim, they're exactly the naive busy-bodies the overwrought plot requires. They just can't believe that elderly Martin and Meiling Eng are high-stakes heroin dealers, despite the million-plus dollars in cash and the hefty supply of the drug found in their Chinatown home. So, against the odds—and the law—Susan and David set out to overturn the grand jury's indictment. As they thread their way through Chinese customs and history (and a walking tour of Hong Kong), they discover that while the Engs are indeed innocent of the drug charges, they're not innocent, law-abiding types either. By the time the amateurs wrap things up—with the authorities' help—the novel has wandered wearily to its end. To regain its energy, Grand Jury needs serious liposuction. (Donald I. Fine, $24.95)

  • Contributors:
  • Thomas Fields-Meyer,
  • Paula Chin,
  • Ben Harte,
  • Peter Carlin,
  • Jill Smolowe,
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • J.D. Reed,
  • Alex Tresniowski.