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Recent and Recommended

April 26, 2013
  • The covers of "The Woman Upstairs" by Claire Messud, "All That Is" by James Salter and "Mom & Me & Mom" by Maya Angelou.
The covers of "The Woman Upstairs" by Claire Messud, "All… (Random House; AP Photo /…)

A look at some recent and recommended books:

Claire Messud's "The Woman Upstairs" (Random House, $25.95) thrums with the fury of a middle-aged woman whose dormant creative impulses are awakened when she forges a friendship-verging-on-obsession with a charismatic female artist and her family. The result is startling: a psychological and intellectual thriller.

James Salter was in his 40s when his best-known novel, "A Sport and a Pastime," was published — in 1967. A meticulous stylist, the octogenarian has a new novel, "All That Is" (Knopf, $26.95): a sexy, bittersweet story set in the New York publishing world after World War II.

What is the difference between justice and revenge? In "Payback: The Case for Revenge" (University of Chicago Press $26), novelist and law professor Thane Rosenbaum takes on that question. Drawing on such sources as Supreme Court cases, tabloid tales and literary classics, the book argues that we would be better served if we carved out a place for revenge in our legal system.

The third annual edition of "New California Writing" (Heyday, $16.95 paper), edited by Gayle Wattawa and Kirk Glaser, gathers contemporary fiction, nonfiction and poetry pulled from literary magazines, books and blogs. Included are selections from Joan Didion and Steve Erickson as well as lesser-knowns such as Tania Flores and Sylvia Linstead.

First published in 1972 and reissued to tie in with the biopic "42," Jackie Robinson's "I Never Had It Made" (Ecco, $14.99) is a sports autobiography with a vision bigger than the playing field. Robinson (who wrote the book with Alfred Duckett) uses his life to articulate a moral vision, whether he is recalling his court-martial during World War II for not sitting in the back of a bus or the death of his son Jackie Jr. in a car accident at age 24.

Maya Angelou's autobiography brought her work into the public eye. Now she returns with another personal story, "Mom & Me & Mom" (Random House, $22), a rumination on her relationship with her mother, whose absence in her early life was as powerful as a presence. A story of reconciliation, told with Angelou's signature style.

The movement of Bob Hicok's lines is utterly unexpected in his new collection, "Elegy Owed" (Copper Canyon, $22). It's almost as if we are joining a conversation that extends beyond the framework of the poem. "My heart is cold," Hicok writes in "Pilgrimage," "it should wear a mitten. My heart / is whatever temperature a heart is / in a man who doesn't believe in heaven."

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