LASTING.Mark Medoff.Warner Books.466 pages...

DREAMS OF LONG

July 19, 1992|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK THE WAY MEN ACT. Elinor Lipman. Pocket Books. 305 pages. $20.

DREAMS OF LONG LASTING.

Mark Medoff.

Warner Books.

466 pages. $19.95. Mark Medoff is best known as the author of the sensitive play, "Children of a Lesser God." Local theatergoers, though, may remember an earlier work of a considerably more hostile nature, "When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder," which was produced at Center Stage in 1976.

"Dreams of Long Lasting," the playwright's first novel, is a little of both, combined with what appears to be a strong autobiographical element. The main character -- like the author -- is a product of Miami Beach and Stanford University who ends up teaching in New Mexico.

Along the way, he finds himself in the ego-gratifying, but socially unacceptable, position of being in love with two women at the same time. And, like the progression in tone from "Red Ryder" to "Lesser God," the character develops from an angry, crude, violent human being into -- in relative terms -- a sensitive kind of guy.

If you can get past the crude -- even trashy -- material at the beginning, you will be rewarded by the craftily compelling way Mr. Medoff ties up his assorted characters and themes at the end. But that assumes, of course, that you are still reading after our hero dons a pair of Gertrude Stein's stained underpants for inspiration.

@ In the throes of a social crisis, yuppie extraordinaire Melinda LeBlanc says: "I'm just p----d at myself for acting like I'm in High School." That about says it all for this shallow tale of bed-hopping in a Massachusetts college town. Far from "shining a wry and irreverent spotlight on modern life and love," as promised, the novel is a never-ending conversation between Melinda and her friend, Libby, also a man-chaser, about who has slept with, is sleeping with or will sleep with whom.

Both are career girls -- Melinda is the "best floral artist in town" and Libby owns her own designer dress shop -- but they have set feminism back 10 years with their all-engulfing concern for pleasing and trapping the few available men in their small, "chic" New England town, whose sophistication is based on cappuccino machines and poetry readings. The girls' main target is Dennis Vaughan, a former high school star athlete and now a "cult hero," who runs a fishing store "where stockbrokers, lawyers and playwrights from all over New England lust for Dennis' expertise and hand-tied designer flies."

All well and good -- but Dennis is also black, and while his color is played down and almost ignored, one has to suspect that it is also a great attraction for Melinda, a subject that is set aside. Somehow the total lack of prejudice in this "snobby" and "politically correct" small New England town has a false ring to it -- it all sounds like a novella worthy of a teen-age magazine. In the end, Melinda, of course, snares Dennis. She is even the first and only woman he takes fly-fishing. Now, for what more could she ask?

BARBARA SAMSON MILLS

BE MY GUEST.

Rachel Ingalls.

Turtle Bay Books.

238 pages. $20.

Rachel Ingalls, an American author living in England, writes about people on the edge. She mixes the spacey and the poetic, but this mix isn't as appreciated in America as it is in England. In that country, "Mrs. Calaban," Ms. Ingalls' 1982 novella, was called one of the top 20 American novels since World War II.

Her plots specialize in the incredible: An announcer speaks after the television has been turned off. A child is literally father to the man. The two novellas in "Be My Guest," Ms. Ingalls' latest book, continue this tradition. Alma, the heroine of "Sis and Bud," has symbolic dreams. Later, she sees a ghost and realizes that this ghost is someone to be recognized rather than feared. Sandra, the heroine of the title novella, watches people shift personalities. Then at her wedding, she and her bridegroom shift into an unusual state of consciousness. That they take the reader with them is a tribute to Ms. Ingalls' genius.

DIANE SCHARPER

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