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FICTION : AND VENUS IS BLUE, STORIES by Mary Hood (Ticknor & Fields: $15.95).

August 17, 1986|Doris Betts

While male novelists have wrung great fictional themes out of the South's racial guilt and 1865 defeat, its female writers--Flannery O' Connor, Katherine Anne Porter, Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty, for example--have usually had other local fish to fry.

Succeeding this earlier distaff Southern Renaissance, the last 20 years have seen not only Southern belles climbing off the high pedestal but also blue-collar or black daughters climbing the social ladder; and writers from both groups have met midway in one of the liveliest creative hen parties of sisterhood in American literature. These writers understand more about the Sun Belt than the Bible Belt. Lee Smith, Bobbie Ann Mason, Louise Shivers, Lisa Alther, Toni Cade Bambara, and Rita Mae Brown are among those depicting characters whose link to the Confederacy has worn thinner than it finally did between Rhett and Scarlet. Add to those contemporaries the talented Mary Hood of Woodstock, Ga., whose first volume of stories won awards from the Southern Review and Louisiana State University, and whose new collection of seven stories and the title novella is beautifully written, with regional characters who turn out to be universal.

No minimalist, Hood's forte is a story lasting long enough in time to allow people to come alive, interact, change, and then stabilize. "After Moore" covers 15 hard years which turn a girl into a likable woman, and make an infatuation a genuine love story in spite of itself. "Nobody's Fool," a father-daughter story which suggests Flannery O'Connor's old man Tanner in "Judgment Day" but more gently, blends cantankerousness thoroughly into individuality until we know what death will make us grieve for.

The title novella has an epigraph: "Imagine a photograph album, with a bullet fired point-blank through it, every page with its scar. Murder attacks the future; suicide aims at the past." In this story of Delia and her father's suicide, his death bores back through her life until even her childhood is damaged, in a reverse chronology at first puzzling, at last revelatory.

Yet these are not depressing stories. Only one, "Something Good for Ginnie," has an unpleasant spoiled bitch at its center and Hood lets Ginnie reveal herself clearly.

Hood writes a calm but melodic prose about complex human beings. They just happen to live in one of the southern latitudes of the human condition.

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