Paule Marshall's "The Fisher King" and "The Barbarians are Coming" by David Wong Louie. 

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Richmond author retells an ancient story
In her latest novel, "The Fisher King," (Scribner, $23) acclaimed Richmond author Paule Marshall weaves a bittersweet tale of a boy's discovery of his family past. Eight-year-old Sonny has never met any of his relatives, having been raised by a friend of his grandparents, Hattie Carmichael, in Paris. An invitation from Sonny's great-uncle causes Hattie to bring him to Brooklyn (against her will, but with all expenses paid) for a concert honoring the late Sonny-Rett Payne, his grandfather. But conflict is at hand. Edgar Payne, instigator of the visit, tries to prolong Sonny's stay, against Hattie's wishes. The "Big People" start "talking talking talking," and Sonny takes the opportunity to sketch his newfound "great-grands" with brownstone fortresses around them. In Arthurian legend, the fisher king is a once-prosperous king who struggles to preserve his troubled kingdom and guard his brother's corpse. In this book, the fisher king figure is Edgar Payne, Sonny's great-uncle, whose real estate dealings are giving a face-lift to Brooklyn, and who is trying to honor the brother he once wronged. Marshall recasts this mythical king in modern-day New York in order to draw on the power of an archetype that appears in Russian and Central-African as well as Christian lore. Edgar Payne, the prosperous leader and "rich king" can only use corrupt methods, money and influence, to atone for his past. Like him, the characters in "The Fisher King," including Sonny, have to find a way to bear collective and personal history into the present. Sonny's gentle sketches of Hattie, his Brooklyn family, and the recognizable Paris quartier he calls home temper the sadness in the book, as the Payne family and their circle become so real we learn their lessons for them. Paule Marshall fans, take note: in "The Fisher King," a forgotten fable packs a wallop. — Ann Bayliss Paule Marshall will be the featured speaker at the usually sold-out Virginia Book Festival luncheon March 23. For information and tickets call The Virginia Festival of the Book,( 804) 924-6890. Tickets are $30. Growing Up is Hard to Do
When Sterling Lung's parents got to Ellis Island from China, the first thing they did was give themselves the "American" first names of Genius and Zsa Zsa. With high hopes for their new life in America, they have three children and open a laundry. Sterling, the only son, is a disappointment and a worry. He becomes not a doctor but a French chef who cooks for a rich women's club in Connecticut. He won't even learn traditional Chinese cuisine. And his Jewish girlfriend is pregnant. This is the backdrop of David Wong Louie's wickedly funny and ultimately moving "The Barbarians Are Coming" (Putnam $23.95). Everyone tries to do something about Sterling. His girlfriend throws him out until he is ready to be a father. His parents get a bride for him from China. The ladies at the club tell him to cook Chinese or get out. As things start to unravel, Sterling becomes a poster child for indecision. Here is a hero for the millennium. Slowly, Sterling grows up. He quits the ladies club. He marries the girlfriend. With his father-in-law he starts a Chinese cooking show, which forces him to steal recipes from his mother. He does the show in a fake accent. And then, without a shred of Promise Keeper weepiness, Sterling takes fatherhood in stride, succeeds, and finally begins to understand his parents. The writing in this novel is quick and very funny. The author is particularly adept at portraying that stupid and dorky time guys go through between college and real life. Page after page, Louie proves himself to be a masterful humorist who should have a large following. From his bio on the book's jacket, it looks as if he publishes a book every 10 years, so you'd better grab this one because his next great book might be a long time coming. — Thom Jeter Heads-Up
Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes" fame and Peter Matthiessen, novelist and nonfiction writer, as well Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline will be at The Library of Virginia gala,"An Evening with William Styron." The Dec. 2 gala will include cocktails, a formal dinner and program. Bruce Hornsby will provide music and, of course, William Styron will attend this celebration of his life and work. Tickets are $150 and $250. For information call (804) 692-3900.


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