From 1961 to 1981, Walter Cronkite delivered the evening news on CBS without an editorializing eyebrow. To America, Uncle Walter's signature sign-off, "And that's the way it is..." meant that's the way it was. Now, at 80, Cronkite has forsaken all pretense of objectivity in a spirited memoir about covering the tragicomic 20th Century.
Although history is safe from revisionism in Cronkite's hands—his insights about Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War-era counterculture, for example, are disappointingly banal—he squeezes enough juice from his far-flung experiences to sustain the narrative. Cronkite didn't pander to Presidents or other powers that be. When John Kennedy demanded to redo an unflattering interview during the 1960 campaign, wanting to revise some answers, Cronkite angrily protested, citing "lousy sportsmanship," and JFK backed off.
In fact, the anchorman turns into Cujo whenever a newsman's turf is threatened. He finds Van Gordon Sauter, the onetime head of CBS News, guilty of fluffy infotainment; and he flogs recent CBS czar Larry Tisch for scaling down the news operation to fatten stockholders' wallets.
Cronkite rarely misses the opportunity to balance the breast-beating with humorous storytelling. There's Cronkite in Hyannisport, straining to overhear as Jackie Kennedy recalls sex with JFK in various rooms of the White House. There's the veteran anchorman calling the National Enquirer reporter who claimed Cronkite had been communing with UFOs. National institutions aren't supposed to have such fun—or produce such an entertaining book. (Knopf, $26.95)
by Anita Brookner
If the British novelist Anita Brookner were a painter, she'd be a pointillist. Like the artists who use tiny dabs of color that, seen from a distance, blend into an image, Brookner piles up detail after detail about a character's emotional life, which becomes completely visible only at a book's end. In this novel she uses her exacting technique to limn London solicitor Alan Sherwood, a conventional man overwhelmed by a single great passion. His love for Sarah, a distant relation, eventually destroys his marriage, and in the wake of the affair he walks the world like a shell-shocked soldier. The book's theme is the destructive power of love. Brookner doesn't describe Sarah's in any depth, yet in the author's view, it seems, love has no reason. Though impressive for its craftsmanship, Altered States is unremittingly dark, turning the thrill of romance into a shudder. (Random House, $23)
by Penelope Lively
Lively specializes in the distance between what, seems to be and what actually is. In her satisfying new novel, this gap between perception and reality is apparent at World's End, the English country cottage of Pauline Carter, a divorced middle-aged editor. This summer, Carter is sharing quarters with her daughter Teresa, Teresa's baby son and—when he's not in London writing his book on the British tourist industry—Teresa's husband, Maurice. The family takes weekend jaunts as part of Maurice's research to cute "theme" villages offering an idealized view of England's past.
The past is very much on Pauline's mind this strangely torrid summer. She is thinking back on her marriage to Harry, a charismatic, faithless professor, and seeing—or thinking she sees—that Maurice is betraying Teresa as she herself was betrayed. Heat Wave can be a bit too schematic in its depictions of the present as so neatly echoing the past, but the novel makes clear that Lively knows well the topography of the human heart. (HarperCollins, $22)
by Robert Olen Butler
Today's wilder supermarket tabs may promise real-life accounts of lovesick aliens, vengeful nymphomaniacs and Titanic survivors, but they rarely deliver. Tabloid Dreams, an inventive and surprisingly straight-faced collection of short stories, takes an imaginative leap into the tales that could lie behind the attention-grabbing headlines. In "Nine-Year-Old Boy Is World's Youngest Hit Man," a child's resentment of. his deadbeat dad takes a strikingly Oedipal turn; in "Help Me Find My Spaceman Lover," Butler deftly captures the heartache of an insomniac hairdresser pining for a kind-hearted alien she met in a Wal-Mart parking lot. A Pulitzer Prize winner for his 1992 collection A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, Butler renders these 12 stories in humorous yet intimate terms. His characters hunger for happiness, passion and significance. His touch is light and ironic, revealing the poignant everyday truths that lurk behind even the most sensational and bizarre of circumstances. (Holt, $22.50)
by Mavis Gallant
An unhappy young American in Paris deludes herself into believing her impending marriage—to a painfully dull and unromantic man—will miraculously transform the shabby French city she's experiencing into the idyllic City of Light. In a different section of Paris, a publisher of little-read Eastern European writers feigns nobility as he struggles to pay his electric bill. For the characters in Montreal-born Gallant's fiction, such forms of protective self-deception are as essential to existence as air and water.
For this dazzling collection, Gallant, now 74 and living in Paris, hand-picked 52 stories dating from the 1930s to last year. The gifted author has said she's not interested in "the grand sweep of history," but rather in "the small things—what people are wearing, what they are eating, the price of things, the accents of tourists on the beaches." She captures nuances, brilliantly, yet gives readers much more than mere surfaces. Gallant's stories are shifting blends of the dark and the comic—each a precise, almost clinical, exploration of the joy, fear, hope and indifference that fill her characters' souls. (Random House, $45)
by Anne Roiphe
The only women who think motherhood is an unalloyed joy have never had children. Simply put, child rearing is both deeply fulfilling and terribly restricting. Drawing on her own experiences, novelist and feminist Anne Roiphe captures well the feeling of ambivalence that many-women have about motherhood. She also argues forcefully that feminists have failed to address how women can be both masters of their own destinies and maternal. Along the way, Roiphe (author of the 1970 novel Up the Sandbox) makes clear that she has seen it all: She was a single parent after divorcing the alcoholic father of her oldest daughter, became a stepmother after marrying for the second time, and is the mother of two other daughters (one of them the writer Katie Roiphe) with her second husband. She found in motherhood both abiding joy (the satisfaction of watching her daughters grow into women whose abilities and opportunities sometimes outstripped her own) and much pain (as, for example, when her eldest daughter was battling heroin and alcohol addiction). She only wishes that the larger society recognized better what the real needs of mothers are, rather than categorizing them as either saints or low-achieving homebodies. It's a welcome message, embedded in a moving book that will resonate with mothers everywhere. (Houghton-Mifflin, $22.95)
by Larry Brown
Brown used to be a firefighter in Mississippi; now he's a gifted literary arsonist. The combustible material in this novel is family rot: Dad drank too much, Mom poisoned the kids with stories of his adultery. The story's accelerant is their son Glen, just released from a prison term for running over a child while driving drunk. Brimming with rage, Glen has plenty of scores to settle, but his main target is Bobby Blanchard, the upright sheriff who arrested him.
Brown describes Glen's five-day rampage of homicide, rape and robbery in the rural South with meticulous prose. The book succeeds as a thriller, but it's also a compelling meditation on father-son relationships. Brown shows us that the powerful bond between men and their boys can thrive on love or, in its absence, turn dangerously to ashes. (Algonquin, $22.95)
by Daniel Silva
Page-Turner of the Week
IT IS EARLY 1944, AND THE MANDARINS of British intelligence have almost pulled off a near impossible task: convincing Hitler that the impending Allied invasion of Europe will come at the French port of Calais instead of the real target, Normandy. Just weeks before the Allies are to set sail, however, a small cell of Nazi spies in England discovers the elaborate ruse. To ensure the secret—and save countless lives on the beachhead—the Nazi agents must be stopped from returning to Germany with the news. To the rescue: Oxford history professor Alfred Vicary, recruited by the Prime Minister, his friend Winston Churchill, to ferret out the German agents. First-novelist Silva, the executive producer of CNN's political programming, has clearly done his homework, mixing fact and fiction to delicious effect and building tension—with breathtaking double and triple turns of plot—like a seasoned pro. His Vicary is an improbable but shrewd investigator readers will love meeting and will not soon forget. (Villard, $23.95)
>READ ANYTHING WITH GOOD 'STORY INTEGRITY' LATELY?
Books about Hollywood can read like dispatches from another planet, full of indecipherable industry jargon. That's certainly the case with Rob Long's wry Conversations with My Agent, in which the former writer and co-executive producer of Cheers chronicles his efforts to develop a new sitcom and along the way drops more than a few loony phrases from La-La Land. Test your Hollywood savvy by matching the lingo with its English translation:
1. Show runners 2. Seeking other creative venues 3. Content providers 4. Unwinding at the network 5. Pieces of business 6. Industry professionals 7. Real heavy coin 8. Ankling
A. TV shows and movies B. People with clout C. A large amount of money D. Leaving a job willfully E. Choking at a pitch meeting F. Powerful producers G. Being fired H. Writers
SHE HAS BEEN DEAD FOR 44 YEARS, BUT Eva Peron is hotter than ever. Piggybacking on the hype created by Madonna
's star turn as the wife of former Argentine president Juan Peron in the $60 million movie Evita, publishers are rushing at least six Evita books into stores:
1. The Making of Evita, by Alan Parker (HarperCollins, $40). Behind-the-scenes pics of costar Antonio Banderas and quips from Madonna
and Parker, the movie's director.
2. In My Own Words, by Eva Peron (New Press, $8.95). An emotional defense of Juan, produced shortly before Eva died from uterine cancer at 33.
3. Evita: First Lady, by John Barnes (Grove, $12). Recycled from 1978, it paints Evita as a shrewd powerbroker.
4. Eva Perón, by Alicia Dujovne Ortiz (St. Martin's, $25.95). The former radio actress is depicted here as an ambitious man-baiter for whom Juan was a substitute dad.
5. Evita: The Real Life of Eva Perón, by Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro (Norton, $11). Spruced up with a new introduction and epilogue since its 1980 publication, it deconstructs the myth of a scheming Evita by detailing how hubby Juan cunningly used her popularity to run the show.
6. Santa Evita, by Tomas Eloy Martinez (Knopf, $23). A fictionalized account of how the anti-Peron military forces abducted Evita's corpse and smuggled it out of Argentina. Talk about picking her bones.
- Wayne Kalyn,
- Clare McHugh,
- Joanne Kaufman,
- Thomas Curwen,
- Mark Bautz,
- Mark Lasswell,
- J.D. Reed,
- Lan N. Nguyen.