358 pages. $21.95. Danielle Steel publishes books more often than Michael Jackson gets plastic surgery. It seemed I had just finished her last tome when my editor approached with "Heartbeat." Since Ms. Steel had fallen out of favor with me -- she had abandoned the sexy prose that I require of trashy novels -- I reluctantly picked up this one about 11 o'clock one dull Saturday night.
The next time I looked at the clock it was 4 a.m. and I had finished the book.
It's the story of Bill Thigpen, creator, writer and producer of TV's top daytime soap opera. Bill has everything -- money, power, fame, beautiful women -- but not what he really wants, which is to live with his young sons (his ex-wife has custody and they live in New York) and have a normal marriage.
This is also the story of Adrian Townsend, production assistant of a network news program in Los Angeles. Adrian has everything, too -- a handsome, successful husband, a great job and a bright future. But it all falls apart when she unexpectedly becomes pregnant -- her perfect hubby had made her promise when they got married that they would never have children.
Adrian and Bill live in the same condo complex, and they meet and . . . well, you need to buy the book to find out the rest. Set aside an afternoon, unplug the phone, have a liter bottle of soda and a pound of potato chips nearby, and enjoy. Dade County, Fla., criminal court Judge Ellen James Morphonios, a.k.a. "the Hanging Judge," "the Time Machine" and "Maximum Morphonios," is a tough, often vulgar, shoot-from-the-shapely-hip woman who does and says what she pleases -- but she's mellowing.
"All my life . . . people have told me, 'You can't do that. It just isn't done,' " Ms. Morphonios, 61, says in her saucy autobiography, "Maximum Morphonios," written with Mike Wilson of the Miami Herald. "I have never listened to them."
Growing up poor in rural North Carolina, she learned from her daddy that an eye must be taken for an eye. But she missed that commandment about adultery. The thrice-married judge has been passionate with many married, powerful men, exposed in a kiss-and-tell fashion in "Maximum Morphonios." She defends her swift, heavy-handed justice (e.g., sentences of 1,698 and 1,197 years) and does not conceal her contempt for the lawless. When told by a would-be rape victim that she shot the perpetrator in the groin, the judge deadpanned: "Nice shot."
ANN G. SJOERDSMA
A MAN WITHOUT WORDS.
203 pages. $17.95.
Describing a deaf man and his efforts to communicate, Susan Schaller has written a powerful and evocative meditation on language.
"First, there is a word," she explains. The word seeps into our minds during infancy. Soon it becomes language, a connection. Like Adam, we make connections and name things. Naming things, we name and become ourselves. And language, as it draws us to the mystery of the unknown, becomes our inner life. But language, connecting us to ourselves and to every human being, also exiles us. Through it, we know that we are unknowable and isolated individuals. Yet -- and this thinking generates poetry -- we are driven to language; language is our escape from the prison of the self.
But what happens if we are born and grow up uneducated and unable to hear or to speak? This is the question that "A Man Without Words" attempts to answer. Can we connect, asks Ms. Schaller, an interpreter for the deaf. Can anything, even love, exist beyond our ability to express it?