WATER by Sue Thomas. (Overlook: $21.95; 235 pp.) "Meeting the wrong man is like stepping into the waves of an ebb tide--you feel the pull of the water beneath your feet and you're drawn to follow it. You know, of course, that when the tide turns you'll glance around to find yourself way out of your depth." So says Sue Thomas in "Water," a desolate, dreamy novel that is pulled along by the thread of emotion rather than the thread of story.

Ruth and her teen-age daughter Julie have never quite recovered from being abandoned by Simon, Julie's father. Ruth is benignly delusional, while Julie, full of bitterness, has a secret life. All this is interspersed with italicized sections about fish, drowning and love.

There is an interesting surreal quality in "Water." Mythic. Although the rules of physics are never actually broken, it feels as if they might be any second. The one profoundly irritating aspect of Thomas' writing is the man-as-monster-woman-as-victim theme. Nobody forced these characters to "step into the waves of the ebb tide," or, put less delicately, to sleep with losers. They choose it. Perhaps those choices came out of a desperate attempt to assuage inner darkness, and that's sad, but it doesn't change the fact that abdication of responsibility may lead to a polemical novel.

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