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FALL'S BIG BOOKS Season's loaded with heavyweights

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Norman Mailer is back, with what his publisher assures us is "his great American novel" -- weighing in at more than 1,000 pages. Harold Brodkey, surely the slowest-working man in the literary business, finally has blessed us with his novel; it's 800 pages long and was 30 years in the making. Stephen King gives us what is advertised as his final book set in Castle Rock, Maine, and his arrivederci to the tortured town stretches to 704 pages.

Then there's Alexandra Ripley's much-heralded sequel to "Gone With the Wind," which will add another 768 pages to the 1,000-plus already contributed in the 1936 original by Margaret Mitchell.

If you're looking for something to help pass the time as the leaves change, the fall book season could help. There are enough "big" books -- physically and literarily -- to keep a reader occupied for some time.

Expect competition on the fiction best-seller list among such writers as Mr. Mailer, Mr. King, Ms. Ripley, Sidney Sheldon, Ken Follett, Rosamunde Pilcher, Dick Francis, Frederick Forsyth, Danielle Steel, Colleen McCullough, Clive Barker, Jude Deveraux, Garrison Keillor and Pete Dexter.

(Already on the best-seller list are "The Sum of All Fears," the sixth novel by Baltimore-born Tom Clancy that quickly shot to No. 1, and "Saint Maybe," Anne Tyler's 12th novel and 10th set in this city. It's her first since "Breathing Lessons," which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.)

Big sellers in non-fiction should come from Bill Cosby, Robert Fulghum, Shirley MacLaine, Joe McGinniss, Katharine Hepburn and William Least Heat-Moon. Biography buffs should enjoy the concluding volumes on studies of Richard Nixon and Vladimir Nabokov.

We'll hear even more from the Sage of Baltimore in "The Impossible H. L. Mencken" (Doubleday, November), a collection of newspaper pieces, many of which appeared in The Evening Sun and The Sun. It's edited by Marion Rodgers, author of "Mencken and Sara."

Fiction

Mr. Mailer's "Harlot's Ghost" (Random House, October) is a massive book about the CIA set in the 1950s and 1960s. Will it be as compelling as, say, "The Naked and the Dead" and "The Executioner's Song," or will it get the rough critical treatment accorded his recent "Tough Guys Don't Dance"? (An advance review in Publishers Weekly was a rave). Or will America not care and merely nod off? At any rate, we'll be hearing huge amounts of hype.

Likewise, Mr. Brodkey's "Runaway Soul" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) will get close scrutiny when it comes out in November. As little known to the public as Mr. Mailer is familiar, Mr. Brodkey is something of a legend in literary circles, even though to date he has written but two short story collections in more than 30 years. Rumors of sightings of "Runaway Soul" have been surfacing for 15 years, and the myth has continued to grow: It is a work of unparalleled genius, nothing like what anyone else has seen. Or, goes the whispering, it is yet another grossly overpraised work by a prima donna.

Other books to look out for include Russell Banks' "The Sweet Hereafter" (HarperCollins, September); "Brotherly Love" (Random House, October), by Mr. Dexter, who won the National Book Award for "Paris Trout"; Carlos Fuentes' "The Campaign" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, October), Mr. Keillor's "WLT: a Radio Romance" (Viking, November); "He, She and It," by Marge Piercy (Knopf, October); and "Wilderness Trips," a collection of short stories by Margaret Atwood ("The Handmaid's Tale"). It's due in December from Doubleday.

In the mystery/thriller category, we can expect to see Carl Hiaasen's "A Native Tongue" (Knopf, September); "The Mandeville Talent," by George V. Higgins (Henry Holt, September); Mr. Sheldon's "The Doomsday Connection" (Morrow, September); Mr. Condon's "The Final Addiction" (St. Martin's, September); Ed McBain's "Downtown" and Mr. Follett's Night Over Water," both out in September from Morrow; Mr. Forsyth's "The Deceiver" (Bantam, October); and "Comeback," by Mr. Francis (Putnam, October).

Then there are the page-turners. Critics hate 'em (usually) but readers can't get enough of the "popular" writers who overweight the best-seller lists. Most of the attention, of course, will be focused on Ms. Ripley's "Scarlett," to be published Sept. 25 by Warner and pushed into our consciousness by a $600,000 advertising campaign. One might wonder why anyone would attempt a sequel to such a treasured book as "Gone With the Wind," but likely reasons include money (her advance was given as several million) and an invaluable boost in career to someone who has had a respectable, but no means extraordinary, career as a historical novelist.

Figure also on strong showings from Mr. King's "Needful Things" (Viking, September), with a first printing of 1.5 million; Ms. Pilcher ("The Shell Seekers," "September"), whose short-story collection, "Flowers in the Rain and Other Stories" will come out this month from St. Martin's; Ms. McCullough continues her foray into ancient Rome with "The Grass Crown" (Morrow, October); Ms. Deveraux's "The Duchess" (Pocket, October); and Ms. Steele's "No Greater Love" and Maeve Binchy's "The Lilac Blues," both due in November from Delacorte. (Ms. Steele's protagonist, Edwina Winfield, begins her stirring saga by surviving the sinking of the Titanic. The author's plucky heroines do lead full lives).

Nonfiction

Among biographies and autobiographies, we'll be seeing a lot about celebrities. The pick of the litter easily is Ms. Hepburn's long-awaited "Me," due this month from Knopf.

Mr. Cosby's latest ruminations on family life, "Childhood" (Putnam, November), is both a look back at his youth and a commentary on the younger set today. Other movie and TV personalities with books out include "Exposing Myself," by Geraldo Rivera (Bantam, September), which has already caused quite a stir with revelations of an overheated sex life (some

partners, he says, were Margaret Trudeau, Bette Midler and Marian Javits); "Ginger: My Story," by Ginger Rogers (HarperCollins, October); Joan Rivers' "Can We Talk?" (Random House, October); Ms. MacLaine's "Dance While You Can" (Bantam, November); and the certainly-not-to-be-missed "One Lifetime Is Not Enough" by Zsa Zsa Gabor (Delacorte, December), which, the publisher's catalog promises, "fills us in on her list of lovers, which reads like a who's who of Hollywood's leading men . . ."

The literary biography of the fall should be "Vladimir Nabokov: the American Years," the second and concluding volume by Brian Boyd (Princeton, September). The first volume, "The Russian Years," was widely praised as a full, fair look at an extraordinarily talented and complex writer.

Look also for "Nixon: Ruin and Recovery 1973-1990" (Simon & Schuster, November), the last volume in an excellent biography by Stephen E. Ambrose; Curt Gentry's "J. Edgar Hoover: the Man and the Secrets" (Norton, September); and Jimmy Breslin's "Damon Runyon: a Life" (Ticknor & Fields, September).

Baltimoreans should be interested in Evan Thomas' "The Man to See: Edward Bennett Williams, Legendary Lawyer, Ultimate Insider" (Simon & Schuster, October); Williams, among other things, was owner of the Orioles for many years.

Anyone who has read the New Yorker in the past few years probably was struck by the moving, painfully revealing passages taken from the diaries of writer John Cheever. We already had known of his problems with alcohol, of his continued battle to accept his bisexuality, but the journals were so graphic, so raw, as to be discomforting. Soon we'll have much more: "The Journals of John Cheever" will be published in October by Knopf.

Mr. Fulghum, the feel-good meister who gave us "It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It," has a few ready-made homilies in "Uh-Oh" (Villard) -- released this month, it's already on the best-seller list. Mr. Least Heat-Moon, author of the much-acclaimed "Blue Highways," takes to the road again, this time to Kansas in "PrairyErth" (Houghton Mifflin, October).

There's seems to be a cottage industry of true-crime books these days, and for that we can in part thank (or blame) Joe McGinniss ("Fatal Vision"). He's back in North Carolina, plumbing another murder in "Cruel Doubt" (Simon & Schuster, October).

Fall's top picks

Part of the fun of being a book editor is looking at what's ahead in a particular season and picking out the most appealing candidates. You're often disappointed, of course, but these are the fall books I'd consider taking on the proverbial desert island. A few have gotten advance looks.

"Harlot's Ghost," by Norman Mailer (Random House, October). This book could be great or a colossal dud. Time to roll the dice.

"Vladimir Nabokov: the American Years," by Brian Boyd (Princeton University, September). The first volume was sublime literary biography.

"Brotherly Love," by Pete Dexter (Random House, October). "Paris Trout" was terrific; can Mr. Dexter repeat?

"The Journals of John Cheever" (Knopf, October). Heartbreaking stuff, to be sure, but riveting.

"The Impossible H. L. Mencken (Doubleday, November). The galleys of this book reveal Mencken at the top of his form -- bombastic, fearless, extremely funny. It should restore some of the luster on his reputation that was lost by publication of his often bleak diary.

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