Magazine article The New Yorker

[ the King of America. ];

Magazine article The New Yorker

[ the King of America. ];

Article excerpt

The King of America, by Samantha Gillison (Random House; $21.95). In 1961, Stephen Hesse, the son of an American oil titan, finds himself adrift off the coast of Irian Jaya, in the path of a monsoon. Inspired by the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in Dutch New Guinea, Gillison's novel excavates the interior life of a lonely, willful "prince of America" whose every relationship and attempt at achievement is tainted by his father's wealth and power. The mystery here is not Stephen's ultimate fate (Rockefeller's body was never found) but what draws him from his sheltered world to an untouched Stone Age land where women suckle piglets and men wear necklaces of human vertebrae. As Stephen ranges through the jungle, his fixation on collecting tribal carvings becomes a doomed hunt for himself and "a pure expression of what it was to be a man: sexual, angry, full of remorse, sorry to be a creature that will die."

The Outside World, by Tova Mirvis (Knopf; $24). Mirvis's first novel, "The Ladies Auxiliary," followed a single mother with flower-child leanings who entered the Orthodox Jewish community in Memphis, where the author herself grew up. Memphis figures here, too, as the place where Tzippy Goldman and Bryan Miller move when they get married. Tzippy is fleeing an ultra-traditional neighborhood and a mother obsessed with the marriageability of her daughters; Bryan, conversely, has no patience with his comparatively secular family. Each is attracted to the other's background. Mirvis lacks the depth that Allegra Goodman brings to this territory, but her chatty style and her eye for cultural contradictions are always engaging.

Something from the Oven, by Laura Shapiro (Viking; $24.95). In the fifties, we're always told, the food industry barged into the American kitchen, waving TV dinners, and destroyed home cooking. Not so fast, Shapiro says. …

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