Mr. Timothy, by Louis Bayard (Perennial, $13.95). This novel by Washington, D.C.-based novelist Louis Bayard takes Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol as its inspiration, but it's not your usual sequel. "Not so tiny any more, that's a fact," says the titular narrator, better known, once upon a time, as Tiny Tim. "Nearly five-eight, last I was measured, and closing in on eleven stone. . . . The iron brace was bought by a salvager long ago, and the crutch went for kindling shortly after -- quite the ceremonial moment -- and all that's left, really, is the limp, which to hear others tell it is not a limp but a lilt, a slight hesitation my right leg makes before greeting the pavement, a metrical shyness. Uncle N [yes, that's Ebenezer Scrooge] told me once to call it a caesura, but this produced looks of such profound unknowing I quickly gave it up." Now 23 years old, Tim lives in a London brothel, where he gives the madam reading lessons in exchange for room and board. It's Christmastime in Victorian London again, but Tim's more haunted by the fate of a young orphan named Philomela than he is by seasonal spirits.
The Good Doctor, by Damon Galgut (Grove, $12). South African novelist Damon Galgut's most recent novel, a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, centers on two doctors at a rural hospital: Frank Eloff, an old hand whose idealism deserted him long ago, and a new arrival, Laurence Waters, a young man who seems to be full of optimism and fresh ideas -- although this small town, even in the post-apartheid era Galgut describes, has a disturbing quality. "It's like something terrible happened here," says Laurence, the young medico. "Nothing has ever happened here," says the older man, who narrates the story. "Nothing ever will. That's the problem." Only in South Africa, even in a small town, too much has happened, as Frank knows and Laurence is about to discover.
Jamesland, by Michelle Huneven (Vintage, $14). Another novel inspired by a famous James -- only this time it's William rather than Henry. Unlike the recent Henry-inflected novels (Colm Toibin's The Master and David Lodge's Author, Author), however, Michelle Huneven's second novel takes place in the present day, with the famous James somewhat removed from the action. He's the ancestor of Alice Black, a 33-year-old living in Los Angeles; Alice, named after William and Henry's sister, is having a rough time (boyfriend trouble, madness in the family) when she meets up with two other challenged souls: Helen Harland, a Unitarian minister with boyfriend and bureaucratic troubles, and Pete Ross, a 45-year-old reduced by life to being cared for by his mother, who has become a nun. Confused? So's Alice, who "knew exactly where she'd landed -- the one place she'd avoided all her life, while dreading its inevitability she'd come smack to the heart of Jamesland."
Now, Voyager, by Olive Higgins Prouty; Bunny Lake Is Missing, by Evelyn Piper (Feminist/CUNY, $13.95 and $12.95 respectively). These two reissues appear as part of Feminist Press's new "Femmes Fatales: Women Write Pulp" series, which "restores to print the best of women's writing in the classic pulp genre, originally published in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s." In Prouty's 1941 story, probably best known nowadays as a Bette Davis vehicle, a rich heiress from Boston named Charlotte Vale has a nervous breakdown and discovers the strength to throw off the influence of her domineering mother and live life to the fullest. Piper's 1957 thriller follows the nightmare lived by Blanche Lake, a mother whose 3-year-old daughter goes missing at school. As her attempts to locate her child become more and more frantic, the authorities begin to suggest that the little girl may never have existed. "This school has no record of such a little girl," one says. "No application blank. No check. No teacher interviewed you, nobody who saw you before today has turned up." Are Blanche and Bunny the victim of a "Gaslight" scenario or . . . ? Find out in "a sinister tale of terror and treachery as a mother desperately searches for her daughter."
-- Jennifer Howard