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Fiction

January 26, 1986|MEREDITH BRUCKER

HERBS AND APPLES by Helen Hooven Santmyer (Harper & Row: $16.95). At 88, this author enjoyed her first best seller when Putnam's reprinted ". . . And Ladies of the Club," a novel describing women's lives in her Ohio hometown around the turn of the century. Now one of her even earlier works is again available, 60 years after it was first published. In an account at once charmingly dated and startlingly fresh, the author novelizes her own coming of age in Ohio and New York during World War I. The story is told with the restraint of an earlier era, when holding hands with a "young man" was a major commitment. In fact, the writer at one point describes a character repeating "a bit of unsavory scandal," but it is left unrecorded, so the reader is spared the details. This was an age of sentimentality, when those filled with emotion wrote poetry or comfortably read it to one another. The yearnings of young women just coming of age continue to reflect that very different time. That's why Santmyer's old-fashioned novel translates well into today's language of emotions.

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