What to read: The best of May fiction

Richard Russo's masterly comic epic of small-town life; a thriller about the science of near-death experiences; randy, E-tarded Edinburgh lads from the author of "Trainspotting"; and more.

Published May 21, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

This month, our cup of new fiction is running over. We found something for every reader's taste -- and a few books that just might lure you away from your usual fictional habits into rich and heady new pleasures. The latest novel from genre-defying cult writer Connie Willis, for instance, could just bring crossover status to this superbly intelligent author. It's a neurological detective story of two researchers whose investigation of near-death experience must walk the line between New Age quackery and the enigmas of life and death.

"Trainspotting" author Irvine Welsh returns, and this time his shag-happy, slang-spewing Scottish laddies are making their way through, of all things, marriage and fatherhood, as well as their fair share of pubs, rowdy football games and E-fueled acid house parties. And if you're up for a zany literary puzzle that goofs on everything from romance to the memoir genre to the New York media world, former Spy editor Bruno Maddox makes a sidesplitting fictional debut.

Even the more traditional novels this month are filled with zesty originality. Richard Russo, who's managed for years to rivet us with his funny, honest novels of small-town Northeastern life, has written his most ambitious and absorbing book yet. Louis Bayard delivers a clever comic turn on male biological urges with his novel about a gay man who suddenly decides he must become a father. Ethan Canin spins a subtle and penetrating tale of a lonely man at the end of his life who is finally moved to correct some disturbing mistakes. And there's much more, including our earlier reviews of Colson Whitehead's dazzling, inventive "John Henry Days," the story of a junketeering journalist in pursuit of the mighty African-American legend; and Philip Roth's lean and hungry "The Dying Animal."

Our first pick: The dangers of studying near-death experiences

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