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Paperback Picks

Paperback Picks -- The latest books from Saul Bellow, Peter Maas, and Patrick Suskind

Road Song: A Memoir Natalie Kusz
After moving with her family to Alaska at age 6, the author was mauled by a dog, her face half destroyed. The years of poverty and medical trauma that followed are unbelievably bleak, and you can only admire Kusz for surviving them. Despite that, her book is disappointing for its determinedly Waltons-like take on experience. Among other things, Kusz never examines the Gothic inwardness of her family, and this much horror without insight is just too hard to take. C-Liz Logan

In My Father’s Court Isaac Bashevis Singer
The late Nobel Prize winner remembers, with grave charm, his childhood in Warsaw as the son of a poor rabbi. Although the portrait of a world completely lost by war is absorbing, it is the clues to Singer’s future as a writer beyond that world that are most compelling. You wouldn’t expect a book whose theme is the importance of being good, in which nearly every character takes religion absolutely to heart, to be fun, but this one is. B+LL

Something to Remember Me By: Three Tales Saul Bellow
This collection of recent efforts — two novellas (The Bellarosa Connection and A Theft) and the titular short story — is evidence that America’s Nobel Prize- winning grand old man of literature is currently interested in curmudgeonly self-justification. It would take writing far more appealing than the dour bombast offered here to make up for Bellow’s introduction, in which he explains that because he now likes to write short, everyone else should. DLL

In a Child’s Name Peter Maas
The story of Dr. Ken Taylor, a handsome Indiana-born dentist who murdered his New Jersey wife in a particularly brutal manner and later directed an elaborate conspiracy to ensure that his family — not hers — would retain custody of their infant son. Filled with moral outrage and written in a brisky clichéd style, In a Child’s Name is true crime at its best. A-

Perfume Patrick Süskind
Süskind’s eerie, erotic tale of a murdering madman with a keen sense of smell is set against the excesses of 18th-century France. The dangerous liaisons that form the novel’s first hundred or so pages are deeply satisfying — frightening and dripping with atmosphere. Then, inexplicably, the soufflé falls. Still, it’s worth a whiff. B

A Natural History of the Senses Diane Ackerman
A collection of essays filled with amusing information: Helen Keller could identify a person’s occupation by his or her smell; myopics have ”an interior life different from others,” a specific kind of personality based on the peculiarities of their vision. Other highlights include a discussion of the role of pheromones (aromatic secretions) in sexual attraction, a visit to the San Francisco Touch Dome (a museum of the tactile), and an interview with a professional ”nose” (a perfume evaluator). A feast of intelligent entertainment. A-