Mantalk, by Irma Kurtz (Morrow/Beech Tree, 192 pages, $10.95).

Sexual Static, by Morton H. Shaevitz (Little, Brown, 175 pages, $14.95).

Irma Kurtz shoots from the lip:

"A man and a woman have one important thing in common at the start of a romance: they are both in love with him."

"{W}e keep hearing that men should be more emotional, by which it is meant they should respond to challenge or criticism as brainlessly as many women do."

"After the first delirium, marriage becomes a battle between two egos. Generally, his takes a bigger beating, because he had more to begin with."

"Inventive love-making is similar to any other form of charm -- a little goes a long way, and when it has gone its way, there's not much left."

Take that, guys and gals. In the battle of the sexes, Irma Kurtz admits no hostages. With quips as refreshing as a beaker of chablis poured over your head, she examines why men think this way, why women act that way, and why staying in love is only slightly easier than gun-running to the contras.

"Mantalk," Kurtz's collection of notes from the front lines, is curiously subtitled "A Book for Women Only." If that weren't enough to make the average man shy away from toting it up to the cash register, it's packaged in hot pink. He'd be more likely to buy a nurse romance.

That's unfortunate, because Kurtz appears to be one of the few war correspondents without an ax to grind. There's no pseudo-scientific research in this book, no misleading interviews with clumps of lonely lads or angry lasses, nothing except the brisk and occasionally brutal observations

gathered by Kurtz's 30 years in the trenches and her work as the "Agony" columnist for Cosmopolitan.

Nor is any strident central point being made. Kurtz describes the territory; she doesn't reshape it to meet a thesis. In a way, that's as much of a relief as her wit. Male-female relationships have become hot news again -- and nearly everyone has the same thesis.

Tomes with titles like "Why Can't Men Open Up?"; "Women Who Love Too Much"; "Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them"; "Smart Women, Foolish Choices" and "The Love Crisis: Hit-and-Run Lovers, Jugglers, Sexual Stingies, Unreliables, Kinkies and Other Typical Men Today" have been selling hundreds of thousands of copies. They all assert that men today are not measuring up; are misogynistic; cause women psychological pain because they act as if they hate 'em; have a difficult time expressing their feelings; or are just plain creepy.

At the same time, there's been a rise in the number of newspaper articles insisting the "new man" -- remember, he acted just like Alan Alda or Phil Donahue -- is not only a myth, but females thought he was too wimpy anyway. In both cases, the message is clear: Women are women, but men are little boys.

Sometimes, if you read this material closely, it's hard to see any rigorous argument being made. Most of these books and articles are written from emotion, not fact -- but then, why bother looking for the facts in such a complex, personal, intangible issue?

A further problem is that the writers mining this territory are forced to deal in generalities. You'd never catch them saying "blacks are . . ." or "Italians are . . . ," but they'll blithely toss off phrases like "the vast majority of American men today are confused, angry, stressed, and downright uncertain."

That last phrase is from "Sexual Static," Morton Shaevitz's attempt to deal with the issue. An associate professor of psychiatry, Shaevitz also directs the "Institute for Family and Work Relationships" in La Jolla, Calif. His main line of attack goes like this:

"If the major issue for women today is overload (balancing relationships, career, and if she's married, household, children, and all the rest), the crisis for men today is loss -- the loss of women." When she's dealing with her job, in other words, she doesn't have time to minister to his needs, make dinner or be responsive sexually. This causes him to retreat, which causes her to think he's a woman-hater who doesn't want her to succeed, and so on.

This is sensible, and no doubt sometimes true. Yet it's one thing to describe the problem, which Shaevitz does fitfully well, and another to describe how to come to terms with it -- presumably, the reason to pay $15 for 175 pages of big type.

Here, then, is his hopeful conclusion: "Both men and women are moving away

from the narcissism and self-centeredness of the previous two decades and are rediscovering the richness that comes with closeness and dependency, even though it carries with it the uneasiness of vulnerability." If only wishing would make it so, Mort. Meanwhile, didn't you say it was the man's dependency that was causing some problems right now?

Irma Kurtz, if not offering any answers either, at least has a sense of how difficult -- if not actually illusory -- the whole concept of reconciliation between the sexes is. She knows that compromise (touted as a secret to success by Shaevitz) is not always efficient or fair:

"{C}ompromise is hard to define when, say, he wants to live at the South Pole, and she wants to be near her mother at the North Pole. What does compromise mean then? Presumably, that they live at the equator. Or that one of them 'compromises' by living where the other wants to be."

Men and women, she says, have never gotten along especially well. Any lasting relationship is an extended truce at best. Happy endings are a myth brought on by an abundance of childhood cartoons, sitcoms, fairy tales and refined sugar. This is no one's fault -- the sexes just think differently, so they have contrasting expectations, goals, schemes and Saturday night plans.

Lest this seem too depressing, Kurtz points out that it's also what makes the game interesting: "It is difference . . . that produces progress, and it is friction that produces excitement."

"May you live in exciting times" was an old Chinese curse. This era certainly fills the bill. Every man (and woman) for himself.

David Streitfeld, a reporter for the Washington Post's Style section, writes regularly on social trends.