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FICTION : WHO DO YOU LOVE? <i> by Valerie Sayers (Doubleday: $18.95; 325 pp.).</i>

Dolores Rooney, a transplanted New Yorker in a small Southern town, is pregnant with her fifth child. Her fourth, Kate, a wild little redheaded 11-year-old, is just beginning to discover the disturbing world of sex. The child witnesses a rape, but by the time she’s forced herself to describe what she saw, she’s halfway to being convinced that the victim was a willing participant, although it remains beyond her comprehension how any girl could want to do that . Then she sees her mother talking with a handsome stranger, and her mother looks girlish and graceful, not at all the way she usually looks. It is 1963, and the public life, the novel’s background, is full of racial struggles: Martin Luther King, President Kennedy and television news. Kate’s father’s real-estate business is floundering, he is scorned by his wife and disappointed in his sons. The family struggles just to stay afloat, just to keep disappointments from overwhelming them. The handsome stranger momentarily lifts the veil of illusion from their eyes; they look at each other, blinking, and they don’t like what they see. This novel is a heavy little slice of life, narrow and rich.


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