A Spring Bouquet of Fiction

Five veterans and a promising beginner offer the season's best narratives

SCUM by Isaac Bashevis Singer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 218 pages; $19.95). The title sounds right for a new Elmore Leonard detective novel, but Singer has extracted it from a passage in his own short story The Death of Methuselah: "Flesh and corruption were the same from the very beginning, and always will remain the scum of creation, the very opposite of God's wisdom, mercy and splendor."

From this rather glum moral, the 1978 Nobel laureate spins a lively, hectic tale. Singer's language, as translated from the Yiddish by Rosaline Dukalsky Schwartz, retains its astonishing speed and vigor, an economy of...

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