BOOKS . . . THE END OF ALICE: The third novel by A. M. Homes (Scribner; 270 pages; $22) revolves around the gruesome psychoses of an unnamed murderer and pedophile whom we meet during his 23rd year in prison. "He is one of those genius wackos who make easy references to Flemish painters and Eastern boarding schools -- the kind of felon who exists maddeningly often in pop culture and rarely ever in real life, where major crimes are not generally committed by people who sound as though they've been reading Roland Barthes between mutilations," says TIME's Ginia Bellafante. The story demands to disturb and repulse, a portrait of a sick mind filled with sexual imagery repellent enough to make Robert Mapplethorpe photos look like Tommy Hilfiger ads by comparison. But the problem with 'Alice' is not so much its barrage of appalling imagery as the author's insistence on using the imagery to make naive, amorphous political statements. Homes says she was inspired to write the book after Jesse Helms' attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts. Unfortunately, she takes it on too obviously. At certain points in the book, her pedophile narrator addresses the reader directly to explain that the book is not meant to shock but to show that he is really no different from us. 'I am no better or worse,' he insists. 'A social construct supported by judge, jury and tattletales has put me away because I threaten them.' "In other words," says Bellafante, "don't judge another man's form of sexual expression, dear reader, because you never know when you’ll want to rape and kill a 10-year-old."