Magazine article The New Yorker

[ Briefly Noted ]

Magazine article The New Yorker

[ Briefly Noted ]

Article excerpt

The Known World, by Edward P. Jones (Amistad; $24.95). On a small plantation in Manchester County, Virginia, in the eighteen-fifties, a freed black man named Henry Townsend lives with his wife and the thirty-three slaves he has bought, some with the help of his former owner. This kaleidoscopic first novel depicts daily life for Henry and his friends ("members of a free Negro class that, while not having the power of some whites, had been brought up to believe that they were rulers waiting in the wings"); for the plantation's slaves, one of whom believes that he, too, will be transformed into an owner after Henry's death; and for the county's white inhabitants, who coexist uneasily with their slaves and their emancipated black neighbors. Jones has written a book of tremendous moral intricacy: no relationship here is left unaltered by the bonds of ownership, and liberty eludes most of Manchester County's residents, not just its slaves.

Love in Idleness, by Amanda Craig (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday; $23.95). Ellen, a glamorous handbag designer, loves Daniel, a humble, though moneyed, academic; despises his film-critic friend, Ivo; despairs of Meenu and Polly, her old London flatmates who have let themselves go to seed, the latter married to Daniel's half brother Theo, who has eyes only for his work. Or does he? In the best tradition of summertime romps, when the friends gather for a vacation in Tuscany backbiting and bed swapping almost immediately ensue. The author's template for her beguiling, very funny fantasia is "A Midsummer Night's Dream," with the main players complemented by a tribe of fairies--here a trio of children who provide their own little frissons. Craig writes with charm and wit, and what in other hands might feel tipsy and overblown remains in the region of delight.

Terror in the Name of God, by Jessica Stern (Ecco; $27. …

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