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6 ^* Ss-te-^ X * JlLf Without a Hero and Other Stories by T. Coraghessan Boyle Viking, 1994, 237 pp., $21.95 With a few brilliant exceptions, the bulk of the stories in T. Coraghessan Boyle's uneven collection rely on clunky irony and a smug detachment to pack their tiny punch. The first story, "Big Game," about a real estate magnate's hunt on an exotic game ranch outside L.A., ends with him blowing away a one-tusked former circus elephant. The point, in case we didn't get it, is that big game hunting is a "big game." In "Carnal Knowledge," a horny man with a dead-end job follows a beautiful woman animalrights activist to a raid on a turkey farm, only to see the newly freed birds get squashed by a semi. Other stories depend on similarly contrived situations: a football player who has never won a game, a father lying to his son about his past drug use. Without a Hero is not a total loss, however. When Boyle focuses on people, not the self-consciously fabricated drcumstances in which he puts them, his fiction is delightful. In the title story, the protagonist loves and loses a beautiful vinylboot -clad Russian immigrant, and in "Little America," a homeless man shanghais William Byrd III, son of the great Arctic explorer, who is suffering from Alzheimer's. The odd drcumstances of these stories are vintage Boyle, but unlike the rest of the collection, they are compassionate toward their characters. The Alienist by Caleb Carr Random House, 1994, 496 pp., $22 It is 1896, and in New York City, young immigrant boy prostitutes have become the prey of a seemingly unstoppable serial killer. The press will not cover "the boywhore murders," and the police, little better than criminals themselves, refuse to acknowledge homosexual prostitution, or to go after an assailant who works with Jack-theRipper -like savagery. In Caleb Can's historical detective novel The Alienist, an unlikely group of people assembled by police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt , join forces to covertly investigate the grisly mutilations. Headed by renowned psychologist, or "alienist," Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, the team also includes John Schuyler Moore, a New York Times journalist with knowledge of the criminal underworld, and Sara Howard, a police department secretary with a thirst for serious investigative work. The novice detectives use the work of philosophers and evolutionists , from Hume and Locke The Missouri Review · 207 to Spencer and Schopenhauer, to rid themselves of preconceptions about human behavior. They operate according to the unconventional premise that killers are not born, but made. Thus by recreating the context of the perpetrator's Ufe, they hope to find the murderer. Despite their intensive efforts, they remain one step behind the shrewd kiUer, leading them to beHeve that they are being manipulated every step of the way. Frustrating their investigation even further are the "guardians of the sodai order," the Episcopal church, American finander J.P. Morgan and anti-union politidans, aU of whom view the murders as a way of keeping the immigrants scared and in their place. In straightforward, unfussy prose, Carr recreates the seaminess of the New York underworld in the 1890s, and juxtaposes it with the lush lifestyles of business tycoons and the Four Hundred top families. Though excessive details from Carr's research occasionaUy slow the pace, The Alienist is a gripping historical mystery . A Handbook of Tibetan Culture Compiled by the Orient Foundation Edited by Graham Coleman Shambhala, 1993, 430 pp., $18 TAe Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion— Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Zen Edited by Ingrid FischerSchreiber , Franz-Karl Erhard, Kurt Fredrichs, and Michael S. Diener Shambhala, 1989, 468 pp., $22.50 Books about spiritual practice 208 ' The Missouri Review have been reaching general popularity again, so much so that Publisher 's Weekly recently ran an article about the astounding sales success of books that purport to answer the soul's deep longings. Both authors and presses are faUing all over themselves trying to catch the wave of popularity. Unfortunately, works that promise to quench spiritual thirst often deliver, instead, a boring set of platitudes sunk in a mire of psychological oatmeal. Worse are the New Age...


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