FICTION

Cousin Rosamund , by Rebecca West (Penguin, $6.95). This is the third and final installment of what was to have been a tetralogy. Only the first volume, The Fountain Overflows (1956), was finished. The second volume, This Real Night, like this one incomplete, was published two years ago. Why all this attention to an aborted project? For one thing, Rebecca West's reputation as one of the foremost writers of the feminist age has never been higher. For another, the one finished book in this series is arguably her best novel. And, like all of her writing, these posthumous books are suffused with West's pellucid insights and brilliant style.

An American Dream , by Norman Mailer (Owl, $8.95). This may not be Mailer's most ambitious novel (that honor surely goes to Ancient Evenings) or his tightest (where the nominee is Why Are We In Vietnam?), but it is probably his most lurid. The protagonist, Stephen Rojack, strangles his wife and then makes perverse love to their maid. An American Dream was first published in 1965, after being sensationally excerpted in Esquire.

Riotous Assembly , and Indecent Exposure , by Tom Sharpe (Atlantic Monthly Press, $6.95 each). Tom Sharpe, a South African who now lives in England, wrote two satiric novels set in Piemberg, capital of the fictional "Zululand." This is their first publication in the U.S. In Riotous Assembly, police Kommandant van Heerden -- a man who has "few illusions about himself and a great many about everything else" -- investigates the killing of an African cook by an Englishwoman. The case takes on political overtones when van Heerden and his officers decide that the woman and her family are communists -- a conclusion reached because her nephew's college library contains books like The Red Badge of Courage. In Indecent Exposure, van Heerden's lieutenant, Verkramp, joins forces with a psychiatrist to promote mass chastity. Meanwhile, van Heerden, besotted by his admiration of the English, seeks to become a member of the Dornford Yates Club and prepares to ride to hounds in the Aardvark Mountains.

Elsewhere , by Jonathan Strong (Ballantine, $3.50). Burt Stokes is a high-school English teacher who fills his empty life with the problems of his students. These include a writer who dies as his incandescent career is still on the launch pad, the gawky boy Burt loves, and the young unwed mother he marries because there is no one else to take care of her. Skillfully constructed and written in exact prose, this is a novel that eschews sensationalism.

NONFICTION

Confronting the Color Line: The Broken Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago , by Alan B. Anderson and George W. Pickering (University of Georgia Press, $17.95). In 1966, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came to Chicago to challenge segregated housing and other inequities there. Though King's Chicago campaign brought national attention to the city, the local fight against de facto segregation had begun a decade earlier. In Confronting the Color Line, the authors trace the historical background, describing "the racial dilemmas of liberal democracy" from Tocqueville to W.E.B. Du Bois to Gunnar Myrdal, before analyzing the effect of the color line in Chicago and the emergence of local coalitions against it.

Kerouac: a Biography , by Ann Charters (St. Martin's, $10.95). "Kerouac said over and over that life was only sorrow and suffering . . ." So begins a chapter from Ann Charters' life of the quintessential beat poet and novelist -- a surprising remark in light of the joie de vivre that informs his best-known book, On the Road. First published in 1973 and newly introduced by the author, this reissue coincides with a surge in attention to and appreciation of Kerouac as a writer and performer.

Plaintext , by Nancy Mairs (Harper Perennial, $6.95). Poet Nancy Mairs strips bare her life in this collection of essays and the result is both terrify and moving for the reader. A depressive and an agoraphobe, Mairs also suffers from multiple sclerosis. She does not flinch, however, from delving into any aspect of her life. In "On Being a Cripple," she writes, " 'Cripple' seems to me a clean word, straightforward, and precise." In "Touching by Accident," she describes the circumstances that led up to a suicide attempt. And in "On Living Behind Bars," the final essay in the collection, she writes about the process of coming to terms with her limits, summarizing it this way: "This is all the grown up I get to be. No more 'dream' world, more perfect than the 'real' world, waiting if only I can find the small golden key . . . "

Butler's Lives of the Saints , edited, revised and supplemented by Herbert Thurston, S.J. and Donald Attwater (Christian Classics, P.O. Box 30, Westminster, Md. 21157, four volumes, $95). This classic of hagiography -- first published in the 18th century and twice brought up to date -- provides biographical accounts of 2,565 saints, from the most eminent (Saint Jerome) to the most unlikely (Saint Christina the Astonishing). The four volumes move through the year -- from January 1, the feast of St. Concordius and a dozen others, to December 31, the feast St. Silvester -- and thus encourage fascinated browsing: a reader can check out the saints venerated on his birthday, discover which are patrons of what and enjoy a lot of good reading. For the most part, this compilation (only now available in paperback) eschews legend-mongering and attempts to set down the truth in so far as it is known. Consequently, without denying the miraculous, these lives instead emphasize telling instances of steadfastness, commitment and faith.