Passion between the covers in 'Lover'

February 12, 1993|By Judith Wynn | Judith Wynn,Contributing Writer

Dieters take note: A glance down the 20 titles in this rich, varied collection of recent fiction is as heartening as any glossy assortment of Valentine bon-bons. Arranged in order of the characters' ages -- from Rachel Ingalls' star-crossed teen-age lovers in "Faces of Madness" to Richard Bausch's elderly, bickering couple in "Letter to the Lady of the House" -- "The Literary Lover" revels in the bittersweet drama of human attachments.

Ah, romance! First love! Steven Millhauser's delightful "Sledding Party" whisks us back to those jittery days of high school crushes and bookish jokes about the class sex-pot: "Sonia ought to wear a sign around her chest, 'Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair,' " jokes the playful young heroine whose mood turns somber when an unwelcome admirer declares his love in a snowdrift beneath a wild cherry tree.

The class "fast girl" in Andre Dubus' "Graduation" gleefully disgraces herself at a high school party but discovers in college that "you could become a virgin again."

"Innocence" is Harold Brodkey's sexy meditation on the wooing of a gorgeous Harvard student: "To see her in sunlight was to see Marxism die."

A single woman and a married man sneak away for "A Romantic Weekend" of S&M sex, only to get bogged down in creeping domesticity. "You might have fantasies, but I don't think you have any concept of a real slave mentality," Mary Gaitskill's hero fusses at his frumpy girlfriend.

The brilliant philosophy student at the heart of Joyce Carol Oates' "Morning" fears her cerebral profession is too masculine: "Denying her womanliness for so many hours of the day, she almost dreaded the violence of its return." So she enters an

adulterous affair that takes her back to her rural childhood.

The Realtor in David Leavitt's "Houses" is "a man with fifty keys in his pockets." Although he seems torn between his wife and a male lover, his affections actually may lie in the untested promise of all the unsold properties in his care.

Then the stories take a detour to Africa. The wealthy South African matron in "Safe House," by Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, initiates an affair with a handsome stranger who, though she never realizes it, is an anti-apartheid activist.

In Norman Rush's "Instruments of Seduction," the fiftysomething wife of a U.S. adviser in Botswana has a jolly life bedding embassy visitors until a frightened doctor tells her about a black man's secret scheme to drive all the whites out of the country.

"Come to Africa and Save Your Marriage," by Maria Thomas, is the droll account of a lively artist's escape from her unhappy marriage.

Rounding out "Literary Lover" are stories by old pros John Updike, Doris Lessing, Alice Walker and Edna O'Brien -- all told, a collection sure to tempt the choosiest literature lover.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "The Literary Lover: Great Contemporary Stories of Passion and Romance."

Author: Edited by Larry Dark.

Publisher: Viking.

Length, price: 368 pages, $22.50.

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