Every season has its surprise hits, but Fall 2007 looks thin on surefire masterpieces. Instead, look forward to important new translations of Dante, Tolstoy, the Psalms, and even Sir Gawain and the Green Night. Jack Kerouac, James Agee, and Donald Barthelme will benefit from the publication of restored or uncollected manuscripts, and Arthur Conan Doyle will be exposed in as yet unpublished letters. The books mentioned below are some of the most exciting of the season, not least because they all contain a cobweb or two.
Philip Roth's final Nathan Zuckerman novel, "Exit Ghost," will bookend the series that began with "The Ghost Writer," in 1979. Though this novel may itself disappoint, contrived primarily to pick up old narrative threads, it will occasion the re-reading and re-evaluation of all nine Nathan Zuckerman novels. The Library of America will also reissue the first, more autobiographical Zuckerman trilogy; the latter, including "American Pastoral" and "The Human Stain," still stands as Mr. Roth's most successful, socially-engaged work in recent memory. Expect critics to meditate on the patrimony of Jewish-American fiction, personified by Zuckerman's now-deceased mentor, E.I. Lonoff. In the first Zuckerman installment, Lonoff strongly resembled Bernard Malamud, but this second look at Lonoff recalls Henry Roth, whose late, unpublished novels this Roth has probably read. October.
Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace" will appear in two important translations. The sensational husband-and-wife team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky will now have translated almost all of the greatest Russian fiction of the 19th century. They first decided to translate "The Brothers Karamazov" (1990) on a lark, and their 2000 translation of "Anna Karenina" won Oprah Winfrey's imprimatur, making the couple rich. Will they now go back to more obscure Russians, such as Lermontov and Turgenev, or will they turn to the French, as indicated by Mr. Pevear's 2006 translation of "The Three Musketeers?" Meanwhile, die-hard Tolstoy fans will appreciate the couple's decision to preserve Tolstoy's original French dialog, as spoken by upper-crust Russians, with translations provided in footnotes. They will also want to look at Andrew Bromfield's "Original Version" — essentially a first draft, without the philosophical elaborations that eventually doubled the manuscript's length, and published in Russia in 2000. Pevear/Volokhonsky: October 15. Bromfield: September.
Forty-five more stories by Donald Barthelme are not strictly necessary, if only because each of his diamond-dense stories, already collected in "Sixty Stories" and "Forty Stories," contain more color and thought and novelty than most books. "Flying to America: 45 More Stories" will, however, do the good work of occasioning a reappraisal of the late miniaturist, who seems to have been less influential than would have been expected. He has been earnestly missed by large-form practitioners like Dave Eggers and David Gates, but it is hard to think of any American fiction writers who work directly in his shadow—with short stories, stocked like surrealist paintings, that are brought to life with streetwise dialog and sound philosophical play. Steven Millhauser, Robert Coover, and a few other writers may retain the confidence of 1970s experimental fiction—kinky, ludicrous, and unbeholden to any sense of large-hearted wonder. But you have to go to poetry, especially the burgeoning world of prose poetry, to find Barthelme's modern descendents. October.
With a newer generation of South American writers taking even North America by storm, Mario Vargas Llosa, the outstanding Peruvian novelist, remains oddly undigested in American letters. Confusingly, he almost became President of Peru in 1990, and his pro-market views give a unique stamp to his literary criticism. His novels have alternated between sensual experiments, such as "In Praise of the Stepmother" (1988) and political murder mysteries, such as "Who Killed Palomino Mulero?" (1986), that sometimes reach the level of ensemble epic, as in "Feast of the Goat" (2002). Vargas Llosa's new novel, "The Bad Girl," will be both love story and political mystery. In the 1950s, Vargas Llosa's hero meets a 14-year-old girl pretending to be a political refugee from Chile; he meets her again in Paris, where she claims to be headed for Cuba; again as mistress to Japanese businessman; again as the wife of a Unesco official. Summarized, "The Bad Girl" sounds almost as if it were written by Roberto Bolaño, but Vargas Llosa is a much more straightforward storyteller, and his new book may be less vertiginous than it initially sounds. October.
Alexander Theroux, brother to Paul, will publish a magnum opus, "Laura Warholic," his first novel in 20 years. Theroux, a former Trappist monk, was nominated for the National Book Award in 1981, for "Darconville's Cat," a compendious revenge satire that has kept his name alive in certain circles, among fans of William Gaddis and Gilbert Sorrentino in particular, for decades. His new book takes aim at the market-driven world of magazine writing, promises to be acerbic and scholarly, and will probably be labeled postmodern, though favorable reviews may well point to a long tradition of seriously playful authors, from Ronald Firbank to Laurence Sterne, reaching all the way back to the self-indulgent daredevils of 17th-century prose, Robert Burton and Sir Thomas Browne. Like many acts of artistic excess, "Laura Warholic" may put off casual readers, but the book's opening chapters signal a refreshing bitterness, something that tells the truth about contemporary life. November.
More than any other recent Nobel laureate, J.M. Coetzee continues to attract serious readers—there is a sense that his best work may not be behind him. Though some were repelled by the depiction of white victimization in "Disgrace" (1999), more have been convinced of Mr. Coetzee's seriousness. His apparent austerity lends weight to personal causes—most notably, animal rights—and no one can accuse him of soft political correctness, even when he goes out of his way to question the brutality depicted by another fiction writer, Paul West. Mr. Coetzee's gathering reputation as a social thinker was confirmed by "Elizabeth Costello" (2003), a riveting blend of fiction and non-fiction that tracked the public presentations given by a fictional author. But Mr. Coetzee's new novel, "Diary of a Bad Year," encapsulates non-fiction in an even bolder manner. Readers will be confronted with three separate streams of narration on each page. At the top runs a humorously archaic treatise on civil life; in the middle, the author of the treatise records his diary, preoccupied by his young secretary; and the young secretary will give her own thoughts, on typing said treatise, at the bottom of every page. December.