Books: A Little Downside Sabbatical A WOMAN NAMED DROWN

by Padgett Powell + Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 179 pages; $14.95

The perils of first novelists have been widely, even lugubriously described. The typical sad story can be summarized with dispatch: unresponsive agents, inattentive publishers, small printings, nonexistent publicity, scattered reviews, laughable sales. Sometimes, though, this scenario breaks down. A few first novels are rapturously received, their authors transformed overnight from supplicants to stars. Then, amid the giddiness of recognition, the problem of the second novelist attacks in its most intimidating strain. What to do for an encore is one symptom, but there is worse: the knowledge that the next book, unlike the first, will have the power to disappoint a lot...

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