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Good reads

From Roth to Hall, and non-fiction, too
By JOHN FREEMAN  |  March 9, 2006

TINY LIGHTS: Patrick Neate serves up a Ugandan private eye in "City of Tiny Lights."According to the Greeks, spring is the season of rebirth, when Persephone was released from Hades and mom Demeter celebrated with flowers. What a bit of cheek for Philip Roth to publish his 27th novel, Everyman (Houghton Mifflin), in May, for if any upcoming novel puts a chill in your bones, it’ll be this one. Roth’s hero is a middle-aged ad man caught short by illness, then spun into a spiral of regret about lost loves and betrayal.

Although the 72-year-old titan shows no signs of slowing down — he’s published six novels in the past 10 years, and a collection of non-fiction — mortality seems to be on his mind. The same could be said of A.M. Homes, whose latest novel, This Book Will Save Your Life (Viking, April 24), features a man energized by a brush with the grim reaper.

British sensation David Mitchell takes a turn for the spooky in Black Swan Green (Random House, April 11), the tale of a stammering English kid entering the melodrama that is adolescence. Sinister doings also echo in Patrick Neate’s latest, City of Tiny Lights (Riverhead, April 4), which might be the only novel published this year to feature a Ugandan private eye.

National Book Award finalist Martha McPhee returns with L’America (Harcourt, April), the story of a woman who must decide how loyal she is to the red, white and blue. In Anne Tyler’s Digging to America (Knopf, May 9), a family from Baltimore cross paths with a clan whose roots go back to Iran. Joyce Carol Oates unloads her massive collected stories, High Lonesome (Ecco, April 4), as does that other poet of melancholy, Amy Hempel, in The Collected Stories (Scribner, May 9). At least George Saunders proviLOYALTY: Martha McPhee gets patriotic -- maybe -- in L'America.des excellent laughs with his story collection In Persuasion Nation (Riverhead, June 1).

In the realm of non-fiction: Boston Globe columnist James Carroll’s House of War (Houghton Mifflin, May 4) is a full-length study of the Pentagon and how it has operated practically independent of government oversight. If you want to learn just what kinds of things the Pentagon does, check out Overthrow (Henry Holt, April 6), Stephen Kinzer’s history of America’s penchant for overturning regimes.

In Persian Fire (Doubleday, May 2), British historian Tom Holland recounts how the Persians almost conquered the Greeks in the fourth century BC, in which case the West as we know it might never have existed. And speaking of things that could have gone another way: in Revolutionary Characters (Penguin Press, May 22), Gordon Wood isolates what made the founders different.

Samuel Fromartz’s Organic, Inc. (Harcourt, April 10) is a fascinating history of the natural-foods movement. And if you really want to earn a pat on the back, look into Ron Nielsen’s Little Green Handbook (Picador, April 3).

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