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October 26, 1986|Marta Tarbel

I AM HAVING AN ADVENTURE by Perri Klass (Putnam's: $17.95; 253 pp.). In "I Am Having an Adventure," Perri Klass writes about hip, young urban sophisticates--recognizable terrain to readers of Ann Beattie, Jay McInerny and Tama Janowitz--without the familiar knee-jerk despair.

All of the 21 short stories making up this collection are portraits of young Americans in the throes of interesting crises. Roughly half are centered around sexual longings or infidelities, and it is here where Klass breaks ground. Her characters' strong, sometimes "deviant" sexual appetites don't lead them into emotionally stressful situations. Rather, they belong to a generation that knows just what it needs, and how to get it.

In "The Almond Torte Equilibrium," lesbian lovers come to terms with one's unexpected pregnancy while catering a celebration party for an unhappy family of Boston Brahmins. And "Cowboy Time" starts out like this: "What Joyce and Edward had in common was their taste in men. They both liked what they called 'cowboys,' rough, tough types with boots and not too much education."

Klass neither builds her characters up nor does she put them down while tracking their struggles for self-fulfillment. Except for the imaginative, sharply focused plots, these stories could almost pass for insightful, thoroughly objective nonfiction. The author's temperament is that of a reporter, with a keen eye for telling detail.

In "Clytemnestra in the Suburbs," relocated New York City scene-maker Clytemnestra Bernstein is hiding in the closet from her "handsome but no-good boyfriend Guy," and gorging herself on "the capers, cereal, cherries and macadamia nuts" she has stolen from a local ShopRite. In "Television Will Betray Us All," an emotionally unstable heroine seduces a television interviewer who, "If he were a piece of fruit . . . would be a plastic banana."

It's easy to recognize the typical Klass heroine--a physically flawed (underweight, overweight, too loud, hair-chewing, frumpy) but noble overachiever--as a surrogate for the author. This is 27-year-old Klass' second book (her first was a novel, "Recombinations"), which she somehow wrote while finishing up at Harvard Medical School (Class of '86) and becoming a new (and unmarried) mother.

The pleasant surprise about "I'm Having an Adventure" is that Perri Klass, and her characters, are so disarming.

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