Things My Mother Never Told Me, by Blake Morrison (Granta, $14.95). No one from Kim Morrison's Irish family came to her funeral in England, and at the wake her grown son and daughter reflected that they didn't even know whether she'd been one of six children, or possibly eight. The true number of siblings turned out to be 20 -- as Blake Morrison learned after her death, along with other truths both concrete and emotional. A decade ago, Morrison wrote of his father's life, infidelity and death from cancer in And When Did You Last See Your Father? Now, beginning with a cache of letters from his parents' wartime courtship and early marriage, he takes on the other half of the story. Excerpts from the letters frame the narrative, and Morrison uses them to imagine scenes he can't recount from memory. But most of the book is simply Morrison's attempt to understand what he learns -- and not just about his parents. "I see my father and I leading parallel lives -- acting in concert with our consorts. There's him sleeping with Beaty and me with Sandra right under my mother's nose. Both of us, put to the test, would have sworn it was her whom we loved best (we'd even have called her by the same name, 'Mummy'). But both of us betrayed her." What would sound like an essay in some hands is novelistic and compelling here. Maybe the reason this book didn't attract as much praise as Morrison's earlier memoir is that it is a subtler study: His mother "isn't, like my father, a 'character.' . . . She has character."
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon (Vintage, $12). Bestseller status aside, this original, empathetic, funny, tear-jerking novel has been optioned for Hollywood by Brad Pitt, so it's hardly lacking attention. Still, it's worth alerting those who missed it the first time around to the story of Christopher John Francis Boone, an autistic 15-year-old who finds a murdered dog, decides to solve the crime and writes a book about it. He's an amazing, memorable character: flat of affect, unable to lie, obsessively observant but completely unable to assimilate the meaning behind what he sees. He likes math, dogs, Sherlock Holmes (but not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), order and the color red. He doesn't like yellow, brown, being touched, change of any kind and people who can tell what he is thinking. And he is brave. Haddon worked for six years with people with mental disabilities, and the book reflects both sympathy for and appreciation of their lives.
-- Nancy Szokan