May Publications

"I began writing to you a long time ago now." Thus begins French playwright and novelist Marie Bronsard's The Hermitage (trans. by Sonia Alland), a novella that takes the form of a kiss-off letter written to a former lover—10 years after the relationship has ended. Their breakup was precipitated by the lover's infatuation with another man, and the woman has since lived in seclusion. Her resentment and sense of betrayal, so intimately and dreamily depicted, may evoke in readers vague feelings of voyeurism, as if this poignant missive were sent to them by mistake. (Northwestern Univ./Hydra, $14.95 paper 80p ISBN 0-8101-1848-3)

Alaskan transplant Nancy Lord (Survival), a writer and teacher who also fishes commercially for salmon, puts a contemporary spin on indigenous Alaskan folktales in The Man Who Swam with Beavers, and the results are often delightful. Standouts among the 17 stories include "Wolverine Grudge," in which a woman, inspired by an episode of Seinfeld, becomes obsessed with making harassing phone calls to her ex-husband's office. And in the utterly charming title piece, a man leaves behind his job and family to take up residence with a clan of the furry, friendly dam builders. National advertising; author tour.(Coffee House, $14.95 paper 250p ISBN 1-56689-110-8) From the epigraph (taken from a Björk song) to the final pages, French sensation Marie Darrieussecq's (Pig Tales) Undercurrents (trans. by Linda Coverdale) is tinged with mystery and quiet menace. Without warning, a woman flees with her young daughter to a small, coastal resort town after emptying her and her husband's joint bank account. Someone is pursuing them—but who? And why? Told from multiple, often indeterminate perspectives, this short novel—though rich with detail—does not give up its secrets easily, if at all. It will tantalize some readers but simply frustrate others. (New Press, $21.95 128p ISBN 1-56584-627-3) PEN award-winner Minna Proctor translated the 20 pieces by prolific Italian realist Federigo Tozzi (1883—1920) that make up Love in Vain: Selected Stories, in which the young characters' search for the romantic ideal often leads only to misery. Jealousy, obsession and betrayal are brought to the fore in these stories of smalltown lovers driven by their passions, trying desperately to connect—usually without success. "What good does love do me?" one anguished character asks. Through the arranged marriages, secret trysts and unfulfilled desires, disappointment and frustration are never far off. (New Directions, $14.95 paper 160p ISBN 0-8112-1471-0; May 24)

Taiwanese poor and working-class people, skillfully and respectfully portrayed, are the subjects of Huang Chun-ming's The Taste of Apples (trans. by Howard Goldblatt). Minor events take on huge significance in their lives, such as when a poor boy buys his loving grandfather a bonito, only to lose it on the way home in "The Fish." In the title story, a family is thrown into panic when the breadwinning father is struck by an automobile, but hope is restored when they learn that the driver was American and willing to make financial restitution. (Columbia U., $42.50 288p ISBN 0-231-12260-8; paper $16.50 -12261-6)

Author of 37 books, Frederic Raphael (A Double Life, etc.) returns with All His Sons, comprising a novella and nine stories, many originally written for BBC Radio. In the title piece, set in New York, two bickering Jewish brothers learn that their father may have been murdered. Filled with crackling dialogue—parts of the story take the form of a screenplay—it is a darkly funny meditation on truth, heritage, race and loyalty. The stories, peopled by film and literature types, are at once cynical and wise, if sometimes too uniform in tone. (Catbird, $21 187p ISBN 0-945774-49-4; May 1)

Nautical novelist Richard Woodman arrives in New World ports with the first three of 14 installments in the Nathaniel Drinkwater series, previously released in the U.K. between 1981 and 1983 and compared by critics there to C.S. Forester's Hornblower saga. Part of the Mariner's Library Fiction Classics, An Eye of the Fleet (ISBN 1-57409-123-9), A King's Cutter(-124-7) and A Brig of War(-125-5) are set in the late 18th century and find hero Drinkwater caught up in revolutions on both sides of the Atlantic. Those looking for high seas action and historical intrigue are in luck—but these are strictly for devotees of the genre. (Sheridan House, $14.95 approx. 200p each)

The Theatre of Tennessee Williams, Volume 8 includes four plays written during the last decade of the Pulitzer Prize—winner's life—Vieux Carré, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Clothes for a Summer Hotel (a "ghost play" set in a mental asylum and featuring F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald) and The Red Devil Battery Sign. Though it is generally agreed that the quality of Williams's work declined after 1962's Night of the Iguana, this is a must for hardcore theater fans, from one of the masters of American drama. (New Directions, $35 378p ISBN 0-8112-1201-7; paper $22.95 -1475-3; May 29)