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December 29, 1985|ROBERTA SMOODIN

LUISA DOMIC by George Dennison (Harper & Row: $14.95). The first-person narrator of this novel has such a blessed life that it makes one want to gag: a loving family, an idyllic country existence, homemade maple syrup, ponies and dogs; he writes poetry and keeps cool, artsy friends. Sure, he's suffered in the past, through a broken marriage and a career in psychotherapy he gave up. But at the time the action of the novel occurs, nothing is wrong. How this family pays its bills is a question that never arises. They are just happy, politically hip, and rather sanctimonious about it all. Finally, the event that's supposed to shatter this calm: One of the very cool, artsy friends passes through with a woman, a Chilean refugee from the post-Allende horrors. He's guiding the woman through North America to Canada, where she can find safe exile. Another friend, a famous composer who has given music up, is also visiting, and the Chilean, Luisa Domic, is stunned to meet the artist she has long idolized. Her whole family--her musician children and journalist husband--adored the composer-friend's music; now this whole family is dead, tortured and murdered in Chile. A great set-up, some powerful material, but the narrator and his family fail to respond to it. In the face of the terrible political realities outside their snug little spot in the woods, these people grow even more smug, more self-congratulatory in their "sensitivity" to worldwide issues. "Luisa Domic" meanders like a journal. If only the author had chosen the third person, or some other distancing device to transform what reads like thinly disguised autobiography into a better designed, more emotionally effective work of fiction.

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