FINAL ARGUMENT.Clifford Irving.Simon and Schuster.333...

BOOK BRIEFS

May 23, 1993|By BOB BAYLUS NEBULA AWARDS 27. Edited by James Morrow. Harcourt Brace and Co. 299 pages. $24.95; $12.95 paperback. | BOB BAYLUS NEBULA AWARDS 27. Edited by James Morrow. Harcourt Brace and Co. 299 pages. $24.95; $12.95 paperback.,LOS ANGELES TIMES

FINAL ARGUMENT.

Clifford Irving.

Simon and Schuster.

333 pages. $22.

After years of struggle, attorney Ted Jaffe is on the verge of personal and professional success. He is the senior litigator at a prestigious firm in Sarasota, Fla., and as the economy begins recovering from the recession, Jaffe appears ready to prosper.

But success is ephemeral. Jaffe is confronted with the horrifying reality that he unknowingly used perjured testimony to send an innocent man to death row. Defending the prisoner will not only ** threaten Jaffe's present but unleash long-dormant demons.

This legal thriller by Clifford Irving is an outstanding addition to a genre that is awash in novels. Mr. Irving has fashioned a fascinating character study about a lawyer who must select among terrible choices -- but those choices may also offer him redemption. Ted Jaffe is a memorable literary figure, and the other characters are uniformly well drawn. The courtroom scenes are believable. The only problem with "Final Argument" is that the mystery is thin, but the novel's strength is Jaffe and his family. With summer rushing toward us, "Final Argument" offers some pleasant hours on the beach or hammock. Science fiction is something like a martial art. All the skill, precision and refinement of philosophy are ultimately aimed at delivering a beating in the name of good vs. evil. Moralistic without apology, "Nebula Awards 27" offers some well-aimed metaphysical kicks to the ribs.

Mike Conner's "Guide Dog" looks at the difference between service freely given and accepted, and servitude that is extracted. Alan Brennert's "Ma Oui" offers the revelations of a recently killed grunt who finds himself in a Vietnamese hell. The winner of the year's award for best novella, "Beggars in Spain," by Nancy Kress, examines genetic alteration and the mistrust that can result.

These and several strong essays -- particularly "Processing the Simulacra for Fun and Profit," by Bruce Sterling -- are ample reason to sample this anthology.

JAMES COX

MAMA MAKES UP HER MIND

AND OTHER DANGERS OF

SOUTHERN LIVING.

Bailey White.

Addison-Wesley.

240 pages. $17.95.

Bailey White's stories about life in south Georgia have become a regular feature of "All Things Considered" on National Public Radio. This collection translates 54 of them -- many quite short -- from the broadcast voice to the printed page.

Ms. White's world is both familiar and strange. She keeps one foot in the swamp of Southern literary tradition and the other waving airily in a space all her own. We hear about alligators and hurricanes and fundamentalists and her mother's eccentricities -- these stories, as in real life, she lives with "Mama" and teaches first grade -- but we also hear about Benny Goodman and Porsches and the sinking of the Titanic and imaginary chicken feet. Race and sex, those staples of Dixie writing, are touched on, but just barely.

Most of the stories are warm and amusing throwaways, notable only for the understated skill with which Ms. White tells them. Occasionally, though, a deeper note intrudes.

An ill-tempered aunt goes mad and rages at her image in mirrors ("You bad, mean old woman. Get out."), but as months pass, the image grows younger, and when it's only a little girl looking back at her, she finally can speak gently to herself. Ms. White, in her classroom, reads a century-old French book about Joan of Arc and finds its patriotic exhortations charming until she realizes: "French children 6 years old, reading that book when it was new, would have been just military age in 1914."

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