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What We're Reading, Jan. 20-26, 2010

This week, a novel from Jonathan Dee looks at the costs (and wild benefits) of living wealthy in America, and a memoir by Patti Smith recalls the singer's long friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Also, T.C. Boyle offers a new book of short stories, and a novel dives into Britain's mid-1950s "Cyprus Emergency."

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Wild Child: And Other Stories

By T.C. Boyle

T.C. Boyle — like the megalomaniac American overachievers at the heart of his quasi-historical novels The Road to Wellville, The Inner Circle and last year's The Women — runs on a powerful mix of ambition and brilliance. "Wild Child," the title novella of his engaging ninth collection of stories, also captures this spirit of hubris. Left to die in a Languedoc forest by his stepmother, the story's title character survived on a foraged diet of raw tubers and rodents. After the boy is captured in the late 1790s, the Frenchmen who attempt to civilize him are convinced that in studying this so-called wild child they can settle fundamental questions about human nature. Their results are equivocal at best. The 13 other stories in Wild Child, almost all attention-grabbers, are set largely in the California hills or working-class upstate New York that have provided the backdrop for much of Boyle's fiction.

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Hardcover, 320 pages, Viking Adult, List price: $25.95, pub. date: Jan. 21


The Privileges

A Novel

By Jonathan Dee

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Not many American writers have tended to write about people with money, but when they have done it the results have often been spectacular. Think of Wharton, Fitzgerald, Capote and the fiction of the lately deceased Dominick Dunne. Add to this list now the work of New York novelist Jonathan Dee, a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine whose 2002 novel, Palladio, looked at American life in the 21st century through the lens of an advertising agency. Dee's newest book, The Privileges, the story of a special marriage in a time quite close to our own, gives every one of his predecessors a, yes, run for its money.

Hardcover, 272 pages, Random House, list price: $25, Pub. date: Jan. 5


Just Kids

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By Patti Smith

Singer, songwriter, poet, painter, rock star — Patti Smith is now an icon. But when she met "hippie shepherd boy" Robert Mapplethorpe on her first day in New York City, in 1967, she was just a 20-year-old Jersey girl. Smith's new book, Just Kids, tells the story of the romance and friendship that blossomed over the 22 years between their fateful meeting and Mapplethorpe's death in 1989. That the pair were close isn't news; Mapplethorpe took the famous photo on the cover of Smith's first album, Horses. But in Smith's telling, their story takes on fairy-tale dimensions: two young artists in the big city protecting each other from loneliness and encouraging the pursuits that would turn each into leading figures in the New York art scene.

Hardcover, 304 pages, Ecco, list price: $27, pub. date: Jan. 19


Small Wars

A Novel

By Sadie Jones

Sadie Jones' second novel, Small Wars, takes place during the mid-1950s Cyprus Emergency — the attempt by an occupying British Army to hang on to one of the last shreds of the British Empire. Major Hal Treherne and his wife, Clara, arrive at the army base in Episkopi full of personal optimism and professional ambition. The Trehernes are decent, conventional British people ready to participate in what they believe to be a decent, honorable British cause. What they increasingly are faced with, however, is the inherent immorality of this particular "small war." The Cyprus Emergency is a conflict without clear goals, during which decent behavior is regularly required to give way before convenience and convention.

Hardcover, 384 pages, Harper, list price: $24.99, pub.date: Jan. 19


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