Notable books for the week of May 18, 1990
*Because It is Bitter, and Because It is My Heart Joyce Carol Oates (Dutton, $19.95)
The masterful realist at the peak of her powers. Comparisons with Balzac, Dickens, and Hardy are not farfetched. A
*The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings of Katherine Anne Porter (Houghton Mifflin/Seymour Lawrence, paperback, $12.95)
Smooth, lively, and occasionally tart pieces on bullfighting, Willa Cather, Jacqueline Onassis, and much more. A
*The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume I (Citadel Twilight, paperback, $12.95)
Dick was the major science fiction writer of the '60s and '70s, but his short stories vary in quality from low-grade hack to high-octane genius. On average: B+
*Family Pictures Sue Miller (Harper & Row, $19.95)
An ordinary Chicago family with an autistic child-a loving, suffering family that endures and tries to learn. A
*Goodbye Without Leaving Laurie Colwin (Poseidon Press, $18.95)
A novelized version of '60s nostalgia. C-
*January Sun Richard Stengel (Simon & Schuster, $19.95)
Vivid portraits of one town's residents that illustrate many of the paradoxes of South Africa. A-
*Saturday Night Susan Orlean (Knopf, $19.95)
The rituals of Saturday night as observed by Americans from Massachusetts to Wyoming. A-
*Small Victories Samuel J. Freedman (Harper & Row, $22.95)
An exhaustive, unsentimental report from the battle-scarred regions of American education. A
*Solomon Gursky Was Here Mordecai Richler (Knopf, $19.95)
A novel full of wonderful particulars but one without much heart. B
*If the River Was Whiskey T. Coraghessan Boyle (Penguin, paperback, $7.95)
Sixteen stories by the author of World's End and Water Music.
*A Long Road Home: In the Footsteps of the WPA Writers Geoffrey O'Gara (Houghton Mifflin, paperback, $9.95)
Using the WPA's American Guides (a travel series begun during the Depression to help unemployed writers), a young journalist sets out to see what is left of the America of the '30s.
*In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90 Frank Bidart (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $19.95)
Readers who have given up on poetry should read Bidart's narrative poems- especially ''Ellen West,'' about a woman suffering from anorexia nervosa-and think again.
*To ''Herland'' and Beyond: The Life & Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman Ann J. Lane (Pantheon, $29.95)
Famous in the early decades of this century for Herland and other utopian feminist novels, Gilman was also notorious for her less than utopian feminist lifestyle.
*Where I Fell to Earth: A Life in Four Cities Peter Conrad (Poseidon Press, $18.95)
Four deeply personal and diverting studies of place: London, Oxford, Lisbon, and New York.