Temple Stream: A Rural Odyssey
By Bill Roorbach
Dial, 288 pp., $24
There is poetry in Bill Roorbach's prose, especially when he is writing about his home in rural Maine, its woodsy charms all the more precious to him during the period covered by these essays, when he was not yet a permanent resident but only a summertime escapee from his teaching duties at Ohio State University.
His lyricism lightly touched with irony, Roorbach recounts his backwoods mini-expeditions in search of the source of a nearby stream. He observes birds great and small, and enjoys the antics of beaver siblings wrestling and tumbling in the grass like Little Leaguers. He takes a wildflower walk with a botanist who envies the floral bounty within reach of Roorbach's door. He drops bottle messages into the stream and awaits their return as intently as a seer awaiting an omen.
Neighbors are few but powerfully quaint and variably benign, ranging from an elderly woodland sprite to a cantankerous mountain man who clearly considers the ''Professor" some obnoxious species of urban rube. Worth a book of her own is the double-talking tenant who elaborately explains why she no longer owes her (unpaid) February rent because it's now March.
The Every Boy
By Dana Adam Shapiro
Houghton Mifflin, 224 pp., $19.95
Dana Adam Shapiro has a taste for the offbeat, to say the least. A first-time novelist, he has also co-directed ''Murderball," a film about quadriplegic rugby players.
In ''The Every Boy," banality meets dark comedy, in part through the journal of 15-year-old Henry Every, growing up, as the author did, in a Boston suburb. True to his surname, Henry's confessions record his conflicted progress through the stations of adolescence, the agonies all young people suffer as they struggle with the Big Issues of growing up: how to fit in without relinquishing the right to be different, how to know whom to trust and whom to love, how to forgive our parents for the unforgivable things they do to us. Other adventures are on a less mundane plane of reality, as when Henry falls for a one-handed temptress. The novel's mortality rate is high, including one death at the core of its imaginative universe.
As with most fiction about adolescents -- even fiction as quirky and as skillful as this -- a certain Holden Caulfield fatigue sets in. Fortunately, Shapiro writes with equally odd-angled insight about adults. The awkward, touching interplay between Henry's estranged parents and between his grandmother and her sassy caretaker suggest that the author is more than ready to try the deep end of the pool.
How Not to Write: The Essential Misrules of Grammar
By William Safire
Norton, 160 pp., paperback, $13.95
William Safire has retired as an everyday political pundit, but he is still on the case (nominative and otherwise) of all things syntactical.
In this collection of lighthearted remedial lessons, the grammar maven of The New York Times Magazine exposes common sins against literate style by means of ''fumblerules," commandments that illustrate the problem: ''No sentence fragments." ''Avoid commas, that are not necessary." ''Never, ever use repetitive redundancies." He then briefly expounds each rule, mustering more wit than pedantry.
Copy editors will be amused -- and some of them, no doubt, even enlightened. Beyond that minuscule population, it isn't clear what audience Safire has in mind, though pleasantries such as ''Lay off betwixt; you're not yclept Beowulf" suggest that he is writing for readers already sophisticated enough to know, for example, that double negatives are a no-no. Perhaps as a conservative Safire feels impelled to fight the liberal use of archaisms, apostrophes, and alliteration. We'd need an expert in an altogether different discipline, however, to explain why this former Nixon aide and longtime Watergate apologist has become a crusader against breaking the laws of grammar.
Amanda Heller is a critic and editor who lives in Newton.