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FICTION : TENDER OFFER by Nora Johnson (Simon & Schuster: $17.95).

April 13, 1986|MAUREEN CONNELL

James (Jamie) Winslow Ricklehouse, a "translucently fair" 40-year-old woman is the witty narrator of Nora Johnson's formidable, fabulist tale about money and power--"for usually they go together."

A Catholic, the daughter of a scion of a successful business, known simply as The Firm, she tells us what it was like being brought up in a privileged Manhattan family during the '50s and '60s. Pampered by Mummy, tended by nanny, her "perfect" world wobbled when her parents divorce and Daddy gets himself a second wife, a volatile Central American seamstress.

Jamie falls in love with Michael Murphy, an outsider to her moneyed class. However, Daddy helps. Michael winds up a respected hard-working employee of The Firm. She quits college, marries him and has two children.

When that fails--Johnson hilariously dramatizes the conscious-raising attitudes of the '70s and its aftermath of broken marriages--Jamie falls apart. Without skills, she's left helpless and hard up. Daddy's tough credo "The Firm is always available to you for work , not money" is what she now has to face. And she does. With shrewd asides, she shares her pathetic naivete about money--and sex.

The grim, funny, often farcical obstacles Jamie must overcome to gain a stronghold in Daddy's powerhouse are a joy to read.

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