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First Fiction From California : REUNION <i> by Rita Wrighton (Fithian Press, P.O. Box 1525, Santa Barbara, CA 93102: $16.95; 256 pp.) </i>

Beginning with the thought that nobody ever forgets who they first saw “Casablanca” with, readers of Rita Wrighton’s first novel find themselves in unadulterated romance territory. We are also in local haunts: at the Woodland Hills Country Club. The year is 1982, and we are celebrating the 38th reunion of Dorsey High School in Baldwin Hills. There is none of the discomfort here, though, of people who don’t quite fit in. High school sweethearts Carrie Donovan and Tom Cartwell meet again amid a clamor of old buddies who haven’t moved a moment out of sync in four decades. Conveniently divorced and widowed, respectively, Carrie and Tom are free to reminisce about their youth, a nostalgic world where men had manners and theater tickets were always to be had in the first few rows.

Their rekindled romance is cemented when they almost lose each other through an accident too improbable to divulge without the running start the book provides. In the end, of course, Mr. and Mrs. Charming meet at the altar in a picture-perfect wedding, as much in love as their younger selves, but better equipped to appreciate what they have.

Wrighton’s pretty fantasy has one final twist: an epilogue in which yet another successful classmate is reading Carrie Cartwell’s best-selling novel, “Reunion,” and invites the fortunate author to lunch to discuss making a film of it. Two Hollywood endings for one novel: Wow.


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