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Tranquil in the Roaring '20s : A TIME BETWEEN by Shirley Streshinsky (Putnam's: $17.95; 288 pp.)

February 03, 1985|Betty Lukas | Lukas is a Times copy editor

A novel about a sob sister in the Roaring '20s promises to be exciting. All the elements are there--a tempestuous period in history, a picturesque locale and a spunky heroine.

Here she is, Hallie Duer, not yet 25 and already a high-ranking reporter with a major San Francisco newspaper.

Unlikely at the time? You bet, but our young, beautiful and pugnacious Hallie avoids the operative prejudice against female reporters and gets to cover all the big events: the major sports assignments, including Jack Dempsey's prizefights; the major scandals, including Fatty Arbuckle's trial; a major political coup, President Harding's death. (He conveniently dies in San Francisco and Hallie is part of the funeral train that takes his body back to Washington.) And more.

This woman has it all: In addition to her blooming career, she is adored by a brilliant and handsome-but-limping (from a war wound) Irish attorney, who naturally fights for righteous and liberal causes. She is admired by her cigar-chomping, straight-talking, heart-of-gold editor, who thinks she's his best reporter. She is idolized by a fey and repressed only brother, who can't ever seem to free himself from domineering women. She is befriended by a young woman who becomes her roommate and confidante, but Faith can't seem to free herself from the domineering man in her life. She is protected by a prostitute named Babe, who feeds her leads on such touchy subjects as abortion. And Hallie, in turn, does her best to act responsibly in these assorted relationships.

This is not to say that Hallie's life is all smiles. She is no stranger to pain and suffering. Her parents died when she was young and her paternal grandmother in Chicago disliked her intensely enough to send her to live with the other grandparents in far off California. Hallie grows up lonely and isolated on their farm near Sacramento. As an adult, she takes a lover whose wife poses a moral problem for her--temporarily. Roommate Faith's lover isn't fond of her. But Hallie's talent for handling almost everything with great efficiency is nothing short of astonishing. And unbelievable.

All the characters, for that matter, are hard to believe. They seem to have been dumped into a lively period of history where they march amid the winds of change with nary a hair out of place. They're there and history is there and that's that. Even when some of them die, the reader is not moved to mourn.

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