SIMPLE PRAYERS by Michael Golding. (Warner Books: $17.95; 304 pp.) This delightful, exotic fable, part "Tempest" and part "Decameron" is so lavish, so dirt-rich and so colorful its like a meal in the open air, laid out on brocade, under the pine and cypress looking out at the ocean. Part of what gives the writing its infallible charm is the fact that every fifth word is Italian, some names of places or food, some just sprinkled generously over the meal. This may annoy some people but that would be churlish. Terra del Pozzo di Luna, campanili, mezzogiorno, Riva di Pignoli are hardly words to shut a reader out. The characters, all living side by side with their daily miracles and potions and transfigurations, are, for the most part, lovable gnomes and gargoyles (the only really malicious character is the black death). Things start going wrong on the little island in the Venice lagoon, Riva di Pignoli, like objects tossed around before a storm, like the rumbling before an earthquake. This is a world in which climate and weather are affected by the passions and disappointments of individuals, all of which are threatened by the approaching juggernaut. Their prayers may be simple, but the cacophony of their daily lives is fascinating.

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