Home Landby Sam Lipsyte

Since two of the blurbs compare Lipsyte's slacker narrator Lewis Miner to Holden Caulfield, let's not--and anyhow, old Holden wasn't much of an ironist. Lewis will win your heart early on: " 'F--- you,' I said. 'I've been meaning to say it for a long time. I just couldn't find the right words'." Lewis tells his story to his old high school's alumni bulletin, which chronicles the achievements of such alumni as a steroid-shooting major leaguer--except Lewis is the kind of guy who gets stoned and imagines being strapped to "a satellite in deep orbit, shooting out rays of entertainment, its hazard lights blinking red in the void." "Home Land" is so good it even blurbs itself.

Honored Guest by Joy Williams

This third collection of Williams's darkly comic short stories still has the spiky, spooky, deadpan feel of the best '70s and '80s fiction. Like Raymond Carver, she keeps her eye on the dislocations in her characters' lives and her ear on the glitches in their speech. ("I don't have a reservation," says a girl at a hair salon. "You mean an appointment," she's told.) >And no one is better at suggesting a radically disordered consciousness through a small eccentricity: "She loved vending machine coffee. She felt it had an unusual taste and was not for everyone." These days, such rigor and restraint seems almost classical.

The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty

In one grim week, Smithson Ide, an overweight, hard-drinking Rhode Island factory worker, loses his entire family. His parents die after a car crash; the body of his mentally ill sister turns up in L.A. So Smithy hops on his old Raleigh and starts pedaling west. McLarty, an actor and playwright who first published this work on tape, leads us through Smithy's painful past and his journey across the country, during which he loses weight, his dependence on alcohol and his emotional paralysis. It's an exhilarating ride.