Jan. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Norman Mailer, the 83-year-old colossus of American letters, returns this month with his first novel in more than a decade: ``The Castle in the Forest'' (Random House, $26.95), a fictional account of Adolf Hitler's youth as filtered through a Freudian lens.
Narrated by Dieter, one of Satan's minions who serves as Hitler's supernatural mentor, it is a bilious journey through the Fuhrer's first 13 years, one that begins with the moment of Hitler's violent conception by his creepy, incestuous parents. It lingers voyeuristically on infant Adolf's bodily functions, his parents' grim relationship and episodes of youthful wickedness.
The book may not be as epic as ``The Executioner's Song'' or ``Harlot's Ghost,'' but it is as provocative and nearly as brilliant -- a perfect bookend to his 1997 ``The Gospel According to the Son,'' which portrayed Jesus as a confused young man guided by voices.
Dieter, who counsels the Fuhrer throughout World War II while disguised as an SS intelligence officer, reminds the reader, ``Saintliness is present in everyone, even among the worst of the worst.'' It's a bit doubtful in this case.
Other highlights this month:
``House of Meetings'' by Martin Amis (Knopf, $23). Amis wrote openly about his disgust with Stalinist Russia in his 2002 memoir ``Koba the Dread.'' He revisits the subject in this novel about a wealthy octogenarian Russian expat touring the Gulags, where he and his brother were imprisoned for 14 years, and reminiscing about their shared love for a once-vivacious Jewish woman.
``Surveillance'' by Jonathan Raban (Pantheon, $24). Raban's timely disquisition on the fragility of truth and identity in the information age stars a Seattle magazine writer who discovers a bestselling memoir is a fake, while, in the background, a frenzied Department of Homeland Security is taking dishonorable, drastic measures to protect the country from terrorism.
``Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name'' by Vendela Vida (Ecco, $23.95). Like Vida's first novel (2003's ``And Now You Can Go'') this is the story of a seemingly insensate young woman whose life becomes unmoored: After the man she believed to be her father dies, 28-year-old Clarissa leaves her fiance and journeys to the Arctic to search for her real father among the Sami people of Lapland.
``Exit A'' by Anthony Swofford (Scribner, $25). The former sniper who penned the superb Desert Storm memoir ``Jarhead'' takes his first shot at fiction in this uneven but compelling thriller about an army brat living at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo and his criminally minded girlfriend -- the daughter of the base commander -- who repeatedly lures him into the Japanese underworld.
``Ice'' by Vladimir Sorokin (New York Review Books, $23.95). This trippy satire from one of Russia's most talented writers depicts the lives of three recruits to a bizarre religious sect: the ``heart speakers'' who beat acolytes with ice-covered hammers and seek spiritual salvation through orgasm.
``Travels in the Scriptorium'' by Paul Auster (Holt, $22). A slim, self-referential meta-fiction -- more a hall of rumors than a novel -- in which a puzzled elderly man sitting in a room discovers a manuscript called ``Travels in the Scriptorium,'' itself the story of a similar elderly man sitting in a room, written by a character who long ago disappeared from Auster's debut work, ``The New York Trilogy.''
``Skylight Confessions'' by Alice Hoffman (Little, Brown, $24.99)) In Hoffman's new magic-realist ghost story, a girl loses both of her parents and vows to marry the first man she meets, who turns out to be a -- a chilly Yalie living in his parents' glass and steel house. She bears him a son and dies when the boy is young, only to return to haunt the callous father.
``Returning to Earth'' by Jim Harrison (Grove, $24). Harrison's meditative novel uses four narrators to recount the death from Lou Gehrig's disease of a 45-year-old Chippewa-Finnish man and its impact on his family, some of whom find solace in the Chippewa belief that his spirit has returned to earth to inhabit a bear.
``Breakpoint'' by Richard A. Clarke (Putnam, $25.95). Former U.S. counterterrorism czar delivers a convoluted techno-thriller set in 2012, portraying terrorist attacks on U.S. communications networks systems to cripple the development of ``Living Software'' -- a self-perpetuating virtual computer program designed to police cyberspace -- and distract from an even more insidious plot.
``Charity Girl'' by Michael Lowenthal (Houghton Mifflin, $24). Lowenthal uses a villainous episode in American history -- the WWI-era internment of some 30,000 women thought to have venereal diseases -- as the basis for this story of a young Jewish girl in Boston who flees an arranged marriage into the arms of an infected soldier, is imprisoned and finds salvation in feminism and rebellion.