July Publications

Dream Date, Jean McGarry's sixth collection of stories, lays bare the insecurities, infidelities and inadequacies of its upper-middle-class characters. Men take the lead in the first section and women dominate the second, though McGarry is too sophisticated for a mere "he said/she said" dialectic. An arrogant classics scholar's dinner with his superiors and wife (on whom he's cheating) ends disastrously in "Among the Philistines," while an arts administrator's affair with a violinist is derailed when she learns she has cancer in "Body and Soul." Although the tone of these mini-dramas is often rather arch, with characters uttering lines like "The props of marriage are many, Arthur," they are insightful and meticulously crafted. (Johns Hopkins, $16.95 paper 248p ISBN 0-8018-6937-4)

Eve Vitali moves out of her parents' New Jersey home to make a go of it in the big city in Ariella Papa's On the Verge. Through 23-year-old Eve and her sidekicks—bitchy, buxom Tabitha and naïve childhood friend Roseanne—readers will discover that Manhattan apartments are expensive, entry-level jobs are humiliating and the most desirable single men are gay. Shocking. Eve is a hopelessly dull protagonist, and although Tabitha provides a few much-needed moments of levity (especially when she reveals how she's been supplementing her income), nothing can rescue this debut from its banal dialogue and glacial pacing. (Red Dress Ink, $12.95 paper 304p ISBN 0-373-25017-7)

A woman in a loveless marriage retreats into an elaborate fantasy world in Darlene Johnson's previously self-published Dream in Color. Victoria and Gerald Jordan married because she was pregnant; now their daughter is five years old, the marriage is in a shambles and Victoria suspects he's having an affair. She copes by inventing two dream lovers: James, a 17-year-old high school student, and Michael, a white rock star. The former "affair" is mostly platonic, while the latter contains all manner of fireworks—a wedding, drug addiction, betrayal—though neither really makes any sense. While slightly more imaginative than similar romances, the fantasy gimmick seems like an effort to distract readers from the lack of plot. (Striver's Row, $13.95 paper 311p ISBN 0-375-75841-0)

Alleged romantic thriller Twilight is the result of a collaboration between actor Billy Dee Williams and novelist Elizabeth Atkins Bowman (White Chocolate). Actor Sonny Whittaker, a cheesy lothario who's shooting a major film in Brazil, falls for beautiful judge Simone Thompson, who coincidentally finds herself assigned to Sonny's messy custody case back in L.A. Meanwhile, there's a crazed stalker called Narcissus running around, penning horrible death-threat poems to them and just about everyone they know. The dialogue is agonizing ("Let me toast you with this syrupy nectar of the tropical gods"), the characterizations (starlets, producers, reporters, lawyers) paper-thin and the plot absurd. It verges on so-bad-it's-good camp, but misses. (Forge, $25.95 480p ISBN 0-312-87909-1)