By Mick Foley
Knopf, 301 pp., $23.95
Hate is the unwavering focus of this guy novel. Foley packs more violence, bloodshed, beatings, shootings, scaldings, and maimings into this one novel than would suffice for 10.
Baseball is the background of the novel, the Riley family of the Bronx (home of the Bombers) the foreground. Scooter Riley, named for Yankee great Phil Rizzuto, experiences life's highs and lows on the ball field. Early triumph is ripped from his childish grasp when his own father tags him out at home. Then when he's only 9, his father shoots him in the leg, causing a lifetime limp. But, since an eye for an eye is the family ethic, Scooter returns the injury with a baseball bat to his father's knee. Unfortunately, when Dad takes a bat to Scooter's little sister's head, shattering her mind, she has no recourse. Mom finally checks out, leaving the guys to slug it out at home and on the field. Scooter finds a worthy enemy in a pitcher who knocks out his front teeth out and rips out most of his tongue. ''The only thing I like is swinging as hard as I can at a pitcher throwing as hard as he can. That's it. The rest of it is boring," Scooter says of the game he pretends to love.
The novel follows this pattern: It's a slugfest. The rest seems too boring for Foley to bother with.
A Mouth Like Yours
By Daniel Duane
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 189 pp., $22
Cassius Harper (a.k.a. Cash and Harp), as his several names suggest, has a shifting sense of self. A 29-year-old grad student at Berkeley, he reads academic journals like Semiotexte and Renaissance Studies and has a trendy girlfriend with similar tastes.
Then he meets Joan Artois -- obvious bad news. Manic with talk and impatient with sex, she pulls him in hard, then pushes him away. Refusing to make any kind of commitment (a second date, a phone call), she drives him wild. His capacity for lunatic attachment is stretched to its limits, as is a reader's patience. This is one of the most annoying, irritating, and enraging woman in recent fiction. She is manipulative, capricious, frustrating, utterly self-absorbed. Harper, unwilling to see her clearly, accepts her vision of herself as ''this exquisitely beautiful and half-broken jewel," whom he must make whole.
But a reader simply longs for him to wise up, tell her off, and throw her out. Her various strategies to protect herself by throwing him off balance are transparently self-serving. His generous interpretations of her malicious behaviors are self-serving for his needs. This goes on for what seems like a very long time. By the time he can't bear it any longer, a reader has long passed that point.
Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750-1850
By Maya Jasanoff
Knopf, 416 pp., illustrated, $27.95
Instead of concentrating on the 18th- and 19th-century European empire builders, colonists, and founders of the East India Company, Jasanoff focuses on several ambitious, energetic, and eccentric men who used the East as way to reinvent themselves.
In Lucknow, in the mid-18th century, it was possible to become not only fabulously wealthy, but an Orientalist, collector, and connoisseur. With these credentials, men of questionable backgrounds hoped to turn themselves into English gentlemen. Several of them succeeded, forming vast, important collections of jewels, weapons, and manuscripts, using their social investment as a means of self-fashioning and self-advancement. Later in the century, Egypt and the South Indian kingdom of Mysore provided European collectors with a massive haul of antiquities -- obelisks, the Rosetta Stone, sculpture from Karnak and Luxor.
As the appropriation of objects expanded, the seizure of territory intensified. The French and British, longtime warring enemies, fought for land as well as trophies. But Jasanoff's descriptions of the often tragic careers of the odd individual men who engaged in private rivalries to win social acceptance and political influence through the accumulation of artifacts is a fascinating and untold story.
Barbara Fisher is a freelance critic who lives in New York.