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August 21, 1994|CHARLES SOLOMON

VOICES OF THE XILED: A Generation Speaks for Itself, edited by Michael Wexler & John Hulme (Main Street/Doubleday: $14.95; 318 pp., paperback original). The editors of this collection of short fiction by young writers complain: "This generation hasn't had a chance to say anything at all. We just sit back and watch various critics try their hands at explaining to us who we are and why." Ironically, very little distinguishes "Voices" from other anthologies. "Lovelock" by Fred G. Leebron and "Her Real Name" by Charles D'Ambrosio, two tales of drifters seeking an emotional connection, suggest the disconnectedness that supposedly marks Generation X. Neither the style nor the subject of most of these stories indicates that the authors are 20-something. "Babies," Abraham Rodriguez Jr.'s searing portrait of a teen-age heroin addict, eclipses the other works, but it could have been written 5, 10 or even 20 years ago. Perhaps critics have attempted to define Generation X because its members have failed to articulate an identity.

KANIKSU: Stories of the Northwest, by Thomas F. Lacy (Keokee: $11.95, 142 pp., illustrated, paperback original). In this informal memoir, Thomas Lacy recalls growing up near Priest Lake in northern Idaho during the early 20th Century. Lacy notes how the land shaped the lives of men and women who balanced the freedom a woodland cabin offered with the loneliness and hard work needed to survive. His accounts of fishing and hiking, work and play have an avuncular tone that suggest the yarns a kindly grandfather might recount by the fire on a winter night.

A CASE OF RAPE, by Chester Himes (Carroll & Graf: $8.95; 105 pp.). Written in 1956-57 by the African-American expatriate, "A Case of Rape" is as much a meditation on race and justice as it is a novel. When a white socialite dies under mysterious circumstances in a Paris hotel room with four African-American men, everyone assumes it's an open-and-shut case of rape and murder. Or is it? In the stark, staccato prose that marked his popular Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson mysteries, Himes explores the lives of his five characters, revealing just how deceiving appearances can be when the observer's vision is clouded by racist assumptions.

THE AYE-AYE AND I: A Rescue Mission in Madagascar, by Gerald Durrell (Touchstone: $11; 175 pp.). The Aye-aye is a weird-looking primate with long, bony middle fingers that it uses to remove boring grubs from trees. Durrell recounts his efforts to establish breeding colonies of aye-ayes, gentle lemurs and flat-tailed tortoises in his familiar, engaging blend of tongue-in-cheek humor and ecological concern. The droll anecdotes leaven Durrell's lament for the shortsighted destruction of the odd, intriguing fauna of Madagascar, and give his work an appeal other natural history books lack.

THE SEED AND THE VISION: On the Writing and Appreciation of Children's Books, by Eleanor Cameron (Plume: $14.95; 362 pp.). In this expanded version of "The Green and Burning Tree" (1969), the National Book Award-winning novelist and children's author argues that a good children's book is first and foremost a good book, with sound internal logic, credible characters and imaginative prose. Cameron's reflections on psychology and psychobabble seem less sure than her discussions of literary style, but her primary concern is that children become "literate in a way that means reading will affect their lives, will give them a view of the human condition they would never have without it, that will become a companion to them all the rest of their days."

THE SIERRA CLUB HANDBOOK OF WHALES AND DOLPHINS, by Stephen Leatherwood & Randall R. Reeves, paintings by Larry Foster (Sierra Club Books: $18; 302 pp., illustrated). The authors designed this guide to fill the gap between arcane scientific literature and the popular whale books that frequently contain factual errors. The concise text describes the natural history and current status of the major species of whales and dolphins, with notes on how to identify them. Anyone planning a trip to the Central Coast to enjoy the recent sightings of humpbacks should bring this handy guide.

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