This Is Big
By Marisa Meltzer. (Little, Brown, 304 pages, $28.)
How do you feel about people who kvetch about money and then spend $900 on a sweater? Marisa Meltzer is a deft, amusing memoirist but she lacks self-reflection in "This Is Big: How the Founder of Weight Watchers Changed the World (and Me)," when she doesn't pause to, for instance, consider the privileged position she's in as a person who's about 40 and still gets her parents to pay for spa weekends.
As a result, although her depiction of her battle with body issues is complicated and provocative, the "(and Me)" half of Meltzer's book is unsatisfying. But the other half, a biography of Weight Watchers founder Jean Nidetch, is chatty and illuminates both Nidetch's more-complex-than-she-revealed relationship to her weight and her enormous impact on what could be called the Industrial Weight Loss Complex.
A Private Cathedral
By James Lee Burke. (Simon & Schuster, 384 pages, $28.)
Humanity's "predilection for inhumanity" is a dominant strand in the DNA of all James Lee Burke's novels, particularly his exceptional series featuring Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux, of which "A Private Cathedral" is the 24th. In this book, the strand is pulled through a plot and characters entrenched in American history, mythology and a Miltonian theology — that evil can be seductive and that no matter what "the society or the era," it "works its way into our midst." It may even be "embryonic in us from the jump."
The evil in this book grows from a festering family feud between decaying New Iberia aristocratic families. Robicheaux and Clete Purcell, his longtime partner, are drawn into the maelstrom when the nephew from one family falls in love with the daughter from the other. It's Tristan and Isolde in juke joints and chicken shacks. Like all Burke's novels, this one is lush and lyrical and poignant and pretty damn brutal. It's a journey into Robicheaux's heart of darkness and America's.
CAROLE E. BARROWMAN