December Publications

The afterlife isn't all it's cracked up to be, according to James, the narrator of Grant Bailie's cleanly written but underplotted novel Cloud 8. Many of the dead take on the guise of Abraham Lincoln, and scenes from life on Earth are broadcast on television, but nothing else about James's existence (or nonexistence) is remarkable. Assigned to a dusty apartment, saddled with an uncommunicative roommate and given a job proofreading a software manual, he soon stops trying to ask questions or investigate. His encounters with the other dead are cryptic and fleeting. The idea that heaven (or maybe purgatory) is a bureaucratic wasteland is oddly pleasing, if familiar, but Bailie never develops his promising conceit into a full-fledged story, leaving his readers mired in the same boredom as his aimless narrator. (Ig Pub.(, $14.95 paper 277p ISBN 0-9703125-2-0)

Though it's cited in nearly every book and article about the culture of the 1950s, few readers under 65 know Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit firsthand. The 1955 bestseller is being reissued with a new introduction by Jonathan Franzen—and, indeed, the story of disappointed Westport, Conn., strivers Tom and Betsy Rath anticipates the novels of suburban anomie by Franzen and his contemporaries. Dreaming of a bigger house for his wife and three kids, WWII veteran Tom leaves his job with an arts foundation to be a well-paid public relations executive at the United Broadcasting Corporation. But corporate ladder climbing and consumer rewards leave him miserable. Though his sentimental conclusion now seems dated, Wilson's portrait of the martini-soaked malcontents is sharp, memorable and still resonant today. (Four Walls Eight Windows, $13.95 288p ISBN 1-56858-246-3 paper)