The Man Who Wasn't There, by Pat Barker (Ballantine, $7.95). Noted for her frankly searing portraits of northern British working-class life (Union Street, Blow the House Down, The Century's Daughter), Pat Barker here mines the same rich seam, although she shifts her focus back to the period just after World War II. Colin is a 12-year-old English provincial boy whose life is so appallingly dreary -- he is a misfit at school, his mother is an ageing, whorish nightclub dancer and he is obsessed with his missing father -- that he begins to retreat increasingly often to the private world of his imagination. Colin conjures up a fantasy life of wartime espionage, sex and revenge -- rendered in the novel in the form of a filmscript -- in which he is the hero: a fantasy so vivid it threatens to undermine reality.
The Burnt Orange Heresy and Pick-up, by Charles Willeford (Vintage, each $7.95). The late Charles Willeford is probably best remembered for the four detective novels featuring his toothless, alimony-bankrupted detective Hoke Moseley. Willeford had, however, begun his writing career with a series of crime novels, originally published as cheap paperback originals, and now reissued in these handsome Vintage Crime/Black Lizard editions. Pickup is the story of an alcoholic affair conducted in a world of rented hotel rooms, bus stations and sleazy neon-lit streets. The Burnt Orange Heresy concerns Jacques Debierue, a painter who has abandoned the art world for solitude, and a critic who wants Debierue to begin showing again. Vintage has also reissued several other crime novels, including five by Jim Thompson (The Getaway, Pop. 1280, The Grifters, After Dark, My Sweet and A Hell of a Woman) and two by David Goodis (Black Friday and Shoot the Piano Player).
NONFICTION The Literary Guide to the Bible, edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (Belknap/Harvard University Press, $14.95). This is a collection of essays that treats the Bible as "a work of great literary force and authority." While the Bible is the foundation of Western religious beliefs and of Western literature, the editors acknowledge that ours is no longer an age where it is expected that most literate people study it. "Individuals must now attune themselves to the book," they write. "To help them do so is our main object."
Collected Prose and Imitations, both by Robert Lowell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Noonday, $14.95; $10.95). Like his contemporaries John Berryman and Randall Jarrell, poet Robert Lowell was also a superb writer of prose. Included in this hefty sampling are reviews and articles on everyone from Ford Madox Ford and Wallace Stevens to Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath. Essays include the never-before-printed "Art and Evil," "The Iliad," "New England and Further," the autobiographical "91 Revere Street" (originally part of Life Studies) and briefer pieces commenting on metrics, Lowell's own poetry and his theory of translation. Editor Robert Giroux also includes a long interview with the poet. Like Pound, Lowell practiced a loose form of translation, one that captured the spirit rather than the letter: Imitations shows his practice and it is dazzling. Lowell's versions of Baudelaire, for instance, bring over more of that poet's daemonic energy than any of the more faithful translations.
SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Vol. 1: The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford, by Philip K. Dick (Citadel Twilight, $12.95). The first of five volumes, this book contains 25 stories, beginning with the previously unpublished "Stability," written in 1947, and ending with "Nanny," which was written in 1952. The book also includes an introduction by Roger Zelazny, as well as a preface (taken from a letter) by Dick, and notes by Dick on the origins of many of the stories. Though a collection of early work, Dick's wry intelligence and fascination with unusual people in unusual situations is always evident. Citadel Twilight has also released The Selected Stories of Robert Bloch, Vol. 1: Final Reckonings ($12.95).
Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons (Warner, $5.95). First published in hardcover by a small publisher, this hefty horror novel went on to win the 1990 Bram Stoker award for horror fiction. On a roll, its author also gathered in this year's Hugo award for his science fiction novel, Hyperion. Carrion Comfort follows the cat-and-mouse game between a group of powerful mental vampires -- people who can control the minds of others -- and a small team of aggrieved victims who hope to defeat them. It turns out, though, that those with the power have begun a global game of chess using human pieces. Almost no one can be trusted in this world of absolute paranoia, where anyone can be turned into a pawn, and a little old Southern lady named Melanie may be the most dangerous person alive.