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By Blake de Pastino, Julie Birnbaum and Jessica English

The Death and Life of Bobby Z
by Don Wilson (Knopf, cloth, $22)

When I first heard about this novel, I thought it was a tie-in to that '80s TV show starring Alex Rocco. Remember? Well, it turns out I was thinking of "Teddy Z." But still I wasn't far off the mark, because reading Bobby Z is a lot like watching television. With lots of violence, drugs and disguises, Bobby is a slick story about a convict who just happens to look like this drug-runner named Bobby Z. So the feds offer to spring him if he poses as Teddy--I mean Bobby--in order to swindle a Mexican drug cartel. If this sounds like an incredibly Hollywood plot, you don't know how right you are. Warner Bros. has already bought the rights to it, and casting agents are at work as we speak. I wonder if Alex Rocco is busy. (BdeP)

by Philip Roth (Vintage, paper, $12)

From perennial fiction award-winner Philip Roth comes an intriguing, intimate novel that conveys worlds with a minimum of words. A brilliant, unhappy Englishwoman and an older American writer are having an adulterous affair in London; most of the novel takes place before and after sex in his studio. Between their dryly hilarious conversations on everything from anti-Semitism to deconstructionism, the protagonists create a disturbing picture of love "somewhere between desire and disillusionment on the long plummet to death." The author's experience and skill as a writer are evident in the technically challenging style he chooses: Narrative is eliminated, and the whole story is expressed through dialogue, forcing the reader to distinguish the characters' voices and fill in the missing parts of the history and action. The occasional confusion this causes is worth the closer reading it provokes of this extraordinary work. (JB)

Lightning Song
by Lewis Nordan (Algonquin, cloth, $18.95)

It's summer on the llama farm, and the lightning storms won't end. The air is thick with electricity, humidity and sexual tension. Leroy Dearman is 12 this summer, and he's beginning to notice many things he never has. Like the way his Uncle Harris--who's now living in his family's attic--flirts with his mother. More importantly, he's discovered a stack of girlie mags in Uncle Harris' room. With the finding of the magazines, all glossy flesh and cheesecake poses, Leroy discovers his own sexuality. Lightning Song seems a backwoods sort of coming-of-age story; its strength is in the simplicity of Lewis Nordan's prose and the balance between humor and the whirling emotions of Leroy and the adult world he encounters. Though simple, Nordan's fourth novel throbs with the feeling of the characters and hums with the electricity moving through the atmosphere around them. (JE)

Men Need Space
by Judyth Hill (Sherman Asher, paper, $12)

This newest book from Judyth Hill--a Santa Fean performance poet--happens to be a collection of love poems. Nothing sappy. Hill's love poetry is hard-edged and real. She mocks marriage. She chronicles the aftermath of divorce. She writes about passion, heartbreak and sex with diverse imagery. Hill compares love to baseball; sex to paintings by Renoir; marriage to having diet Sprite and pork rinds in bed. Lengthy and straightforward titles seem to give her away before you even begin the first stanza, but Hill's poems are far more complex, often plunging into some sorrowful or bitter twist by the last stanza. And much of her poems are about poetry itself: the most passionate and torrid lover that any poet has. I ache still since finishing Men Need Space. I return to each stanza, each line that reminds me of myself. And that is the only measure I have for good poetry: the kind that invades your own heart. (JE)

--Blake de Pastino, Julie Birnbaum and Jessica English

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