IN NOVELS LIKE Dirty Work (1989) and Father and Son (1996) and in nonfiction books like On Fire (1994), his memoir of 17 years as a firefighter, Larry Brown captured the hardscrabble American South with clarity, tenderness, and piercing honesty, establishing himself as a leading voice in the genre known as "grit lit." His final novel fortifies that position with barbed wire. Set in Brown's preferred literary turf of rural Mississippi, A Miracle of Catfish (ALGONQUIN, $27) covers a year in the lives of several down-and-out men and a ten-year-old boy.
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Eighteenth-century adventurer John Ledyard, writes Bill Gifford in Ledyard: In Search of the First American Explorer (Harcourt, $25), "almost single-handedly established the archetype of the restless American wanderer." After dramatically dropping out of Dartmouth in 1773 (he paddled away from campus in a homemade canoe), Ledyard sailed the Pacific with Captain James Cook, explored the west coastof North America, and trekked solo across much of Russia. His pluck, charm, and appetite for travel were legendary; though constantly broke, he talked his way out of trouble and into expedition sponsorships. "No matter how settled we may be," writes Gifford in this entertaining biography,"a part of us longs to follow his path." DIANNA DELLING