This gazetteer charting the wanderings of a band of Vietnam vets and their wives, girlfriends and sisters opens on a 1973 party convened to watch the Watergate hearings on TV: Recriminations are passed as nonchalantly as a joint, and a smashed cocktail glass has the haunting ring of friendly fire. Jump-cut to the '90s: The handsome Rooster has gone AWOL from Millie and their resentful daughter; the hard-working Rod Devins determines to protect his family's house from the bank by establishing an impregnable perimeter around the yard; Lucy's Central Park South apartment is a citadel for keeping the reality of her husband's terminal illness at bay; and Frankie still travels with his imaginary native guide, Papa San. The men talk in aphorisms: "Serious is a hole in the hourglass," "I'm just trying my best to lighten the density." Their language, which is left to the women to parse, is a constant, jarring reminder of the war. It is, in Beverly Gologorsky's hands, a brilliant reflection of prevailing conditions: emotional displacements, marriage as snafu and men and women trying to find their place decades after the upheaval of Vietnam.
SPINNERS;\o7 By Anthony McCarten; (William Morrow: 264 pp., $24)\f7
Anthony McCarten is a New Zealand playwright and filmmaker; his first novel is an amusing portrait of a tiny New Zealand town struggling to cope with teenage sexuality, bad PR and space aliens. Delia Chapman, 16, leading goal scorer on the Opunake girls netball team, has had a close encounter of a particularly vexing kind. She has been taken--in the Victorian sense--aboard a glowing sausage-shaped spacecraft by a lithe, handsome extraterrestrial who, she later discovers, has impregnated her. As Opunake's gossip mill goes into overdrive and the big-city newspapers descend upon the town, Delia's unlikely tale resists easy dismissal: The smashed carcass of a heifer is found in a ring of flattened and scorched barley on the outskirts of the village, and two more girls--timid Yvonne McKay and pierced, witchy Lucinda Evans--have come forward to claim their own paranormal pregnancies. As the otherworldly conceptions polarize Delia and her girlfriends at Borthwick's Freezing Works (where they pack beef hearts), Delia is drawn to a human lover--the mayor's half-Maori nephew--who's on the verge of discovering a truth weirder than anything Delia--or the reader--suspects.
THE ELECTRICAL FIELD; \o7 By Kerri Sakamoto; (W.W. Norton: 320 pp., $23.95)\f7
Kerri Sakamoto's debut is the elegantly told story of how a neighbor's murder plays upon the lives of a girl, Sachi, 13, and a woman, Saito, who is slipping a little too quietly into middle age. They live in a Japanese cul-de-sac community in Ontario in the '70s. The subdivision borders a field of hulking electrical towers, and the atmosphere is charged, even before the beautiful Chisako is found dead. Her husband, Yano, has been agitating for reparations from the Canadian government for its wartime internment camps. As Saito watches Yano struggle with his yardwork, crude social skills and out-sized dog, she notes, "Nothing went his way, nothing turned out right, never." Saito could have been talking about herself. Her days are spent making tea and rice, tolerating her younger brother Stum, changing her porridge-dribbling father's bedclothes and brooding over her older brother Eiji, who died years ago. It isn't until Sachi, a wispy wise-child who asks all the wrong questions, becomes obsessed with Chisako's murder and the subsequent disappearance of Yano and his son, Tam, that Saito is drawn out into the open: The girl's desperate search for Tam finally puts Saito onto the overgrown trail of her own self. "The Electrical Field" hums with suppressed violence and delicate mysteries.
LOUSE;\o7 By David Grand; (Arcade: 272 pp., $23.95)\f7