MONTANA.Rick Bass.Houghton...

WINTER: NOTESFROM

March 24, 1991|By TIM WARREN PRIZED POSSESSIONS. Avery Corman. Simon & Schuster. 320 pages. $19.95.

WINTER: NOTES

FROM MONTANA.

Rick Bass.

Houghton Mifflin/

Seymour Lawrence.

162 pages. $18.95.

This is the sort of winter Rick Bass writes about:

"A cold front came down out of Alaska yesterday, dropping the temperature from twenty above to fifteen below in less than an hour -- branches and limbs blowing from the trees, everything tumbling past, and the wind biting, ripping. The temperature kept dropping after dark, crackling cold stars, plunging, bottoming out around thirty-eight, thirty-nine below. . . . We hide in our sleeping bags. The fire crackles, but it doesn't seem to put out any heat."

Mr. Bass, author of the short-story collection, "The Watch," and his artist girlfriend, Elizabeth Hughes, spent a winter as caretakers for a ranch in Yaak, Montana -- so isolated that the valley's 30 or so inhabitants live without phones, electricity and nearly everything else considered essential for modern living. They grew to love their splendid isolation and to respect, even fear, the uncompromising power of winter's force.

Nature writing often moves beyond sharp observation and critical reflection to a rapturous self-absorption -- something on the order of "Oh! The wonder of owl droppings!" Mr. Bass gives us much of the former and only an occasional bit of the latter, and "Winter" is an exceptionally fine chronicle. He and Ms. Hughes learn to slow down, to take life on its terms. And something else, he writes: "I'm falling away from the human race. I don't mean to sound churlish -- but I'm liking it."

In the award-winning novel "Kramer vs. Kramer," AverCorman took a heart-wringing look at a family in crisis. His latest novel, "Prized Possessions," also looks at a family in crisis, but the results are disappointing.

tTC The book focuses on, but doesn't develop, three complicated issues: the materialism of the upper middle class; the pampered children of that class; and the issue of date rape. The central characters are Ben and Laura Mason, and their daughter, Elizabeth. The Masons are status-seeking Manhattanites; Elizabeth is their prized possession.

When she goes off to Layton, a presitigious liberal arts college, she meets Jimmy Andrews. Another prized possession, he is the stereotypical college jock. He takes advantage of Elizabeth's naivete and rapes her. But the next 257 pages of "Prized Possessions" only half-heartedly explore the family's -- specifically Elizabeth's -- response. Since the characters have been insufficiently developed, their response is neither appropriate nor believable.

DIANE SCHARPER

PERCHANCE TO DREAM:

ROBERT B. PARKER'S SEQUEL

TO RAYMOND CHANDLER'S

THE BIG SLEEP.

Robert B. Parker.

Putnam.

271 pages. $19.95.

Just as Hollywood suffers from incurable sequelitis, thpublishing industry seems to have the same problem when it comes to popular characters of deceased authors. James Bond, Perry Mason and Nero Wolfe have returned . . . and returned. Thirty-one years after Raymond Chandler's death, Robert B. Parker -- he of the "Spenser" novels -- has finished his second mystery starring Chandler's Philip Marlowe.

As indicated in its title, "Perchance to Dream" is the sequel to Chandler's classic 1939 mystery, "The Big Sleep." General Sternwood is dead and Carmen, his wild daughter, has been sent to a sanitarium by her sister, Vivian. Norris, Sternwood's faithful butler, fears for Carmen and contacts Marlowe to see if Carmen is safe.

"Perchance to Dream" starts out like gangbusters and has a promising cast, but ultimately disappoints. While Mr. Parker has the period's prose correct, Marlowe's drinking and constantly getting slugged almost becomes a parody. By the end, the plot (( is so confused that it is hard to take the novel seriously.

BOB BAYLUS

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