DANIEL MARTIN, By John Fowles (Little Brown, $12.95). An expansive, leisured, philosophical novel about a screenwriter who leaves California for the deathbed of an old friend in England. He also leaves his mistress behind and falls in love with his ex-wife's twin sister. This long book is mainly concerned with endless twists and turns in the search for love, but what sets it aparts is its optimistic tone, its determination that consolation, even happiness can be found.A bonus along the way is the lucid,limpid style of John Fowles, which in itself is something to cheer about.
THE WOMENS ROOM, by Marilyn French (Summit, $10.95). A long and troubling novel about the painful adjustments society and men and women have been making over the last three decades. Mira, the protagonist, travels from domesticity in New Jersey to solitude in Maine, discovering friendship, scholarship, chuavinism and disillusionment along the way. Solid, rewarding reading that will leave few readers unmoved, although not necessarily encaptured.
THE ICE AGE, by Margaret Drabble (Knopf, $8.95). Alison Murray and Anthony Keating are, respectively, a charming middle-aged actress and a real estate financier. Both deal with crises of family, money and self in a quietly perceptive novel that reveals a great deal about the malaise of England in our time. Margaret Drabble is one of our finest novelists.
LANCELOT, by the Walker Percy (Farrar Straus & Giroux, $8.95). Lancelot Andrewes Lamar speaks from a mentak institution in Louisiana where his acts of murder and arson have caused him to be incarcerated. The secion of an emblezzlerand an adultress, Lancelot led a debauched life as a youtth, failed as civil rights lawyer, turned to drink and finally to murder. In an impassioned monologue adressed to a boyhood friend, nor a Jesuit priest, he inveighs again his fate, against the absence of God, questions the existence of evil, asks for answers which he never receives.
THE SUN AND THE MOON, by Nicolo Tucci (Knopf, $10.95). Rome at the turn of the century in the milieu of this novel, which potrays the final stages of the Western society's last age of innocence. It is written with such a graceful, polished style that it may be easy to overlook the fact that it is one of the best and most penetrating novels of manner in years. The author is most impressive though largely by indection) in conveying the difference between the inner lives of people in that time and those of our contemporaries; his characters, true to their milieu and its unconscious assumptions, provide an indication of how far our society has moved in a few decades.
PLAYER, by Don DeLillo (Knopf, $7.95). The author shifts his focus again, after having given us life as a football game in (in End Zone) and life as seen by an allienated rock superstar (Great Jones Street). This witty, harrowing and superbly controlled noved about modern anomie and violence takes life as guerrilla terrorism for its central image. It is brilliantly written.
EARTHLY POSSESSIONS, by Anne Tyler (Knopf, $7.95). Charlotte Emory is taken hostage, accidentally almost, in a strangle inept bank robbery as she waits to withdraw money. As she accompanies Jake Simms on his getaway, we learn the story of her life, why she was in the bank, why she needed the money, what she herself was running from. Charlotte is a photographer, again almost default (she inherited her father's studio) and sees people with an accurate photographic gaze. She is constantly aware of encumbrances, the weight of possession, however trivial. The kidnapping involuntarily relieves her of this burden, so that on her return she can both recognize and accept it.The tiny details, all just right, are woven together into a powerful, memorable novel,
THE PUBLIC BURNING, by Robert Coover (Viking, $12.95). The year's most controversial novel (for its outrageous fact-mixed-with-fiction portrayal of Richard Nixon) is a heavy satire set in the early '50s centering around the events leading to the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Coover's phantasmagoric version of history moves the execution scene to Time Square before a bloodthirsty crowd of hundreds of thousands with Uncle Sam as the master of ceremonies. The narrative, laden with snippets from newspaper and magazines of the periods sometimes moves at a plodding pace, but Coover's caricature of Nixon and his comic-erotic adventures is oddly moving. Tehe Public Burning should not be compared to E.L. Doctorow's Book of Daniel but to the backest works of Bertolt Brecht and Gunter Grass.
TRUE CONFESSION, by John Gregory Dunne (Dutton, $9.95). Brothers Tom and Des Spellacy advance together from an Irish subculture up different ladders - Des to a high place in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Tom not quite so high in the city vice squad. The latter's diligence uncovers murder and scandal that threaten to topple his lofty brother. Along the way there is much blood, thunder and a cast of colorful supporting rogues.
THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE, by Philip Roth (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $8.95). That the author of Portnoy's Complaint and The Breast should write about Franz Kafka's sexual habits is almost inevitable. David Kepesh, Roth's latest philandering hero, has a bizarre dream while on a visit to Prague - he meets the whore Kafka used to visit, and for $10 is told certain intimate secrets that might support his speculation that That Castle is " linked to Kafka's own erotic blockage . . ." The book is layered with such curious and stimulating diversion - a discourse on Chekhov, Flaubert and, of course, Kafka, thoughts on the suffering of the Jews, the joys of teaching (and living) literature - but the main plot centers around the amorous adventures of the professor of desire with four picturesque ladies. There are very few writers around who can write about passion so elegantly and so entertainingly as Roth.
A PLACE TO COME TO. by Robert Penn Warren (Random House, $10). Jed Tewksbury struggles away from the squalor of Dugton, Alabama, all the way to the University of Chicago to become a scholar of Dante. It is not until he returns to the south, to teach in Nashville, Tennessee, that he is forced to evaluate his place in southern life. What precipitates this revaluation is, predictably, a blue-blooded Southern belle. Although long since an exile to the North, Warren's protraits of the South are perceptive and his hero's search for answers and a spiritual haven powerful.
THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER, by Joan Didion (Simon & Schuster, $8.95). The author of Play It As It Lays sets her new novel in an exotic location. Boca Grande, a fictitious South American nation in political ferment. A 60-year-old American anthropologist submerges herself in the narration of the tale of Charlotte, whose 18-year-old daughter has espoused the cause of revolution and is wanted by the FBI. The complex plot weaves in and out while the novelist displays wit and subtlety in establishing her curiously pervasive presence.