by Margot Livesey

Henry Holt: 234 pp., $23

Margot Livesey is a writer at the pinnacle of her craft. "Eva Moves the Furniture" is such a complete, sturdy yet graceful novel that it is difficult for a critic to wedge herself in between the writer and the reader. Eva is born in 1920 in the lowlands of Scotland. On the day she is born, her mother, Barbara, dies of influenza. Eva is raised in the family home, Ballintyre, by her father and her Aunt Lily. When she is 6, playing with her dolls under the red currant bushes, she is visited by a woman and a child. They seem real to her, but no one else can see them. They are gray-eyed and otherworldly. They are Eva's companions. Throughout her life they appear to give her advice, often unwanted. They interfere as though they were guiding her to her fate, creating decisive moments and meetings in her life. Whenever she threatens to reveal them to someone else, they punish her. For most of Eva's life, she is not certain whether they exist to help or harm her. She grows up isolated by their secret presence. This is a novel built on deeply held beliefs: that the dead watch over us, that some people are born and live with the presence of the dead and that one's fate unfolds like a flower. These beliefs give the novel its sturdiness. They are not spelled out or questioned in the novel; they exist beneath it and inform the plot. The story of Eva's life builds and swells with the inevitability of generations. Unlike sagas, which (often clumsily) dwell on genealogies and passages, these lives fold into each other.


by Gwen Edelman

Riverhead Books: 168 pp., $21.95

Fiction often raises questions. Here's one you're not going to like: How much should a person feel? Kitty, 32, is reading a novel about a geisha in the corner of a bookstore when Joseph Kruger, famous playwright, 25 years older than Kitty, picks her like a ripe piece of fruit. He takes her back to his hotel and tells her, chapter by chapter, the story of his life during World War II in Amsterdam, Vienna and Palestine. It seems that he has survived with the help of a great many women. He has rebuffed the cruelty of the war by reveling in a variation of love. He has avoided being paralyzed by loss after loss by learning how not to get too attached to places or people. His life is fueled by a willful determination, sometimes charming, sometimes sour. He is fierce and moody, and Gwen Edelman captures both the man and the sparks that fly from him. "What do you know?" he shouts when Kitty tries to sympathize. "Stay out of my story." Kitty's job in the novel is geisha-like: to listen and please by playing the part of both mother-savior and lover-whore. Each time she tries to explain herself and her life, she is either ignored or ridiculed. Edelman writes in moments and she turns a nice phrase: surfaces "furred with dust," "locusts shrilling." It's always a little hard to believe, in a novel of only two people, that one of the characters can be such a blank slate, but this is only a slice of Kitty's life, a door she has opened on a room. She enters the room and then leaves it.


by Ken Wells

Random House: 272 pp., $23.95

I love this guy. His first novel, "Meely LaBauve," was the very voice of the bayou, a Cajun American "Huckleberry Finn" of a novel. "Junior's Leg" is even more piquant, fewer alligators but more gris-gris. Every sort of badness, from misbehavior to downright evil, is here represented. Junior is so bad from the start that you know he has to get better or go straight to hell. It's almost a disappointment when he starts to soften up, testimony to the fact that the evil you know is preferable to the evil you can't see. (Gives me the frissons just thinking about it.) Ken Wells does such a good job revealing this world and this language that, as you can see, the visitor to his country comes home with the annoying habit of talking in the vernacular, like people who go to London and come home speaking British English. Junior got his leg bitten off by a shark when he was working on an oil rig, but he was already mean before the accident. He won $200,000 and a job for life in the lawsuit but squandered it all on cars and women and gambling and alcohol. When we get the pleasure of his acquaintance, he's got the spins, lying in the corner of his filthy trailer by the side of a swamp. A young woman on the run and needing a place to hide installs herself as his guardian angel. 'Cept it takes a while for Junior to recognize a guardian angel. "What the hell do I care about a robber?" Junior thinks, looking around for the wooden leg he hasn't bothered to wear for a few days so he can hit her with it. "I'm so friggin' broke, even the mice and roaches that crawl around my kitchen have gone on the Relief. Them mice I can live wit'. Them roaches bug me." It's a rollicking plot, too, but Junior steals the show.

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