In a sort of Friday Night Mats for the Iowa high-school wrestling circuit, an ESPN contributor follows two of the state’s most promising wrestlers through their senior seasons. Although Kreidler’s book lacks the strong sense of place of H. G. Bissinger’s Texas football classic, it’s an inspiring chronicle of individual effort—and its portraits of stifling gyms and miserly training diets ably evoke an elemental loneliness unique to the sport.
Wallowing in Sex
by Elana Levine (Duke)
A media-studies scholar documents how the sexual revolution made its way into the mainstream via 1970s American television. Leaving aside Levine’s unintentionally amusing academic dutifulness—”I have been able to view this episode of the Match Game, along with many others, in syndicated repeats on the Game Show Network”—the book does map genuine cultural change and find meaning in an ephemeral medium that, despite its pervasiveness, is too often regarded as unfit for serious study.
The Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage
by Dr. Laura Schlessinger (HarperCollins)
Eschewing, as always, wishy-washy understatement (sex-averse women should “get over yourselves and under your men,” for example), Dr. Laura, in this follow-up to The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, traces the cause of much marital unhappiness to our “almost total lack of understanding, appreciation, and respect for what is feminine and what is masculine—and therefore what it means to be the counterpoint to the other.”
The Real Toy Story
by Eric Clark (Free Press)
A fascinating exposé of the $20 billion- a-year toy industry, in which ads increasingly tout sex and violence, executives jockey for market share with alarming bloodthirstiness, and the terrifying prospect of KGOY—”kids getting older younger,” and therefore becoming immune to the charms of the toy chest—haunts all.
House of Meetings
by Martin Amis (Knopf)
Amis’s short eleventh novel works intermittently as a grimly comic assault on the peculiar monstrousness of Russia. The remainder—a ponderously suspenseful drama about two Russian brothers, gulag survivors fixated on the same woman—is, uncharacteristically for this gifted writer, a tinny, hyperbolic, static affair.
Returning to Earth
by Jim Harrison (Grove/Atlantic)
With his roots in the hunting and fishing ethos of the upper Midwest, his straightforward style, his appreciation of the natural world and of life’s sensual pleasures, his focus on grand themes, Harrison might almost be a parody of the quintessential American male writer, were he not the real thing. In the first section of this empathetic novel about love, death, and redemption, a man dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease gives his wife a digressive account of his family’s hard-knocks history. The remaining three sections explore how his death affects those who loved him.
by Michael Redhill (Little, Brown)
Lou Gehrig’s disease again! In this case, a local historian, suffering from the malady, posits, to public ridicule, that a trove of photographs of early Toronto lies beneath a landfill. Redhill, author of the affecting short-story collection Fidelity, shifts between the present-day account of the widow’s efforts to vindicate her husband and the story of the photographer in mid-nineteenth-century Toronto. Puzzlingly, the modern bits are stilted, at times almost amateurish, while the historical parts sing.
by Vikram Chandra (HarperCollins)
This well-written entertainment, with a plot of Victorian complexity and a page count to match, centers on the cat-and-mouse between a Bombay police inspector and a crime boss.