BOOKS . . . ARKANSAS: “I was in trouble,” writes a fictional narrator named David Leavitt at the beginning of The Term Paper Artist, th e first of three novellas contained in the real David Leavitt’s new book, Arkansas (Houghton Mifflin; 198 pages; $23). Sure enough, in a vertiginous display of life imitating art imitating life, those words, plus some sexually explicit terms that follow, got the real Leavitt in trouble all over again. Edward Kosner, editor in chief of Esquire, abruptly canceled the scheduled appearance of The Term Paper Artist in the April issue, causing the magazine’s fiction editor to resig n in high dudgeon and fueling literary gossip for weeks. Why did Esquire kill Leavitt’s story? Kosner has insisted that the decision was simply a matter of editorial judgment (or rejudgment, since the magazine purchased rights to print The Term Pa per Artist last fall). Other sources, including Will Blythe, the fiction editor who quit, charge that the story was yanked because publisher Valerie Salembier feared its explicit homosexual content, including a proposed man-to-man tryst in the b ack of a Jeep, would offend advertisers, particularly of automobiles. Through her representatives at the magazine, Salembier has denied saying any such thing. This controversy provides the impetus for the surreal plot of The Term Paper Artist. In th e novella, the character named David Leavitt, distraught over the suppression of his novel and suffering from writer’s block as a result, hides out at his father’s house in Los Angeles and does halfhearted research at the ucla library for a nove l he’s pretty sure he will never write. By chance he meets Eric, an attractive undergraduate, who invites him to his apartment to share some marijuana. Hoping for sex, Leavitt learns that the seductive Eric has a more complex transaction in mind%3 A sex there will be, once the author has ghostwritten Eric’s English term paper, and once that term paper has earned Eric an A. “I’ve got something you want,” Eric says. “You’ve got something I need." "The Term Paper Artist is specta cularly effective fiction, an oblique and very funny commentary on Leavitt’s real-life travails, notes TIME's Paul Gray. "Having been accused of plagiarism, he spins out a story in which he happily abets plagiarists."
BOOKS . . . PAYBACK: Billy Adare, Payback’s in-over-his-head hero, is an honest law student who p ays his tuition by working summers at the family trade of sandhogging, in a big water tunnel being dug beneath Manhattan. The work is dangerous enough at the best of times, but jostling has broken out between Irish construction thugs from Hell’s Kit chen, who by tradition control labor in the tunnel, and Italian heavies hired by management to break the union. At first Billy tries to ride out the skirmishing. Then his elder brother Paddy, a former prizefighter who is an enforcer for the Irish mo b, hands him a pistol and tells him to make himself scarce. “These guys are psychos. I just don’t know how it’s gonna play out,” says Paddy. Violently, of course, is how it plays out. "As matters rumble toward a good, tough-guy ending% 2C what sounds real is not so much the corrupt politics of the construction business as the shot-and-a-beer talk of the guys who wear hard hats," says TIME's John Skow. "Kelly knows how the palaver goes in the kind of bar that doesn’t have ferns , the boozy, unchanging gab about sports, women and the System that defines the deep, edgy pessimism of blue- collar men. “Einstein” is what they call Billy, out of class respect and class resentment. But as shots are heard at the end, it is unclear whether he will make it back to law school."