FICTION : SILK HOPE, NC, <i> by Lawrence Naumoff (Harcourt Brace: $21.95; 352 pp.)</i>
The house nearly steals the show from Frannie Vaughan. It’s a fine old farmhouse, strong and solid the way they used to build them, and it’s a lot more. Built by a great-great-grandmother with the inheritance from a man who done her wrong, it has been passed, by will and deed, to the women of the family so they will “always have their own place regardless of what the men in their life did or didn’t do. . . . This house would be there for them.” Frannie wants to keep the house, needs to keep the house. Sister Natalie wants to sell. Engaged to balefully bourgeois Jake, Nat wants to move to the suburbs, assure “A secure future.” Do the Right Thing. Frannie is engaged to no one except life itself. A precious, fleeting thing, a mayfly. Too large of heart, too short of common sense, she wouldn’t know the Right Thing if it bit her on the bum. Frannie loves indiscriminately--nature, animals and men, lots of them. “Good-hearted wantonness,” author Lawrence Naumoff calls it. She’s a wanton, moreover, of underlying sadness, wistful for old-fashioned morality. And she can drive you batty. Naumoff, author of “Taller Women,” is savvy enough to delay Frannie’s destiny to the end, to let us build up a rare affection for the young woman. And check those underwear packets. You never know.