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Exploring the word

Our 2002 collection of book reviews

(Page 4 of 8)

Jumping off from Franz Kafka's novella, in which Gregor is transformed into an enormous bug, "Insect Dreams" describes a stranger metamorphosis: That bug mutates into the savior of humanity. In the most natural way, Estrin manages to insert Gregor (the cockroach) into the major developments of the first half of the 20th century. His novel is a massive tour of science, culture, and politics. It's also perpetually funny. (Feb. 14)

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THE EYRE AFFAIR, by Jasper Fforde, Viking, $23.95

When detective Thursday Next first hears that the manuscript of Dickens's "Martin Chuzzlewit" has been stolen, she's not particularly alarmed - until it becomes clear that the perpetrator is a master criminal and arch-villain. In this debut novel, Fforde has crossbred "Jane Eyre" with James Bond and Harry Potter. The result is clever, loopy, and unabashedly ridiculous - about as much fun as you can have in the classics section without being thrown out of the library. (Jan. 31)

THE IDEA OF PERFECTION, by Kate Grenville, Viking, $24.95

This Australian winner of Britain's Orange Prize tells the story of a chronically shy engineer and a museum curator who's been having a bad-hair day since she was 12. Though Grenville makes them the subject of great comedy, she regards these sweet losers with patience. The result is an irresistible comedy of manners that catches the agony of chronic awkwardness. (April 18)

ENEMY WOMEN, by Paulette Jiles, William Morrow, $24.95

Jiles's debut novel about the Civil War skirts along the border of history, following the alarmingly common tragedy of 18-year-old Adair Colley, a Missouri farm girl whose family owns no slaves, but who still falls victim to the brutality of the Union's program to quell rebellion. Jiles is a poet, but she proves herself a remarkably effective historian as well. And her steely style never wastes a word across the cold mountain of desperation she describes. (Feb. 21)

THE NAVIGATOR OF NEW YORK, by Wayne Johnston, Doubleday, $27.95

Johnston uses history - the race for the North Pole - as a stunning backdrop for a young man's search for his own past. Devlin Stead, a precocious orphan, leaves Newfoundland to join Frederick Cook's exploration. By the time he's finished describing their remarkable competition against Lt. Robert Peary, Johnston has braved the coldest spot on earth but delivered us to a place of genuine warmth. (Oct. 24)

ROSCOE, by William Kennedy, Viking, $24.95

Kennedy's latest novel about Albany (his seventh) opens as World War II closes. With the Nazis vanquished, the new enemy is a Republican governor determined to attack the corrupt Democratic Party, run by three crafty crooks who've been friends since boyhood. "Roscoe" barrels along with wild vitality - a winking, confident novel, full of snappy irony but capable of dropping into dark horror or sweet sympathy. (Jan. 10)

DARLINGTON'S FALL, by Brad Leithauser, Knopf, $25

Leithauser tells this quiet story of a wealthy butterfly scientist at the turn of the century in 600 10-line sonnets. A long poem about lepidoptera is a tough sell, but this novel in verse catches one's eye with all the charm and complexity of an Ozark swallowtail. Leithauser's story doesn't suffer from its form; there's nothing he can't catch in this net. (April 4)

LOST NATION, by Jeffrey Lent, Atlantic Monthly, $25