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Unspoiled Connecticut, the Family State : CRAZY IN LOVE by Luanne Rice (Viking Press: $17.95; 265 pp.)

December 25, 1988|Bette Pesetsky | Pesetsky's most recent novel is "Midnight Sweets" (Atheneum). A collection of her short stories, "Confessions of a Bad Girl," will appear next spring. and

If chestnuts roasting by an open fire, etc., lead your thoughts to the subject of romance, then you may want to settle in with Luanne Rice's second novel, "Crazy in Love." Nicholas loves Georgie (Geogiana Agassiz Swift) and vice versa. They are already married, and that eliminates the boy-has-to-get-girl gambit.

But Georgie's love for Nicholas requires a total togetherness that extends to quick trips to New York City when he has to work late so that they can spend the night together in a hotel. Nicholas is beginning to feel slightly strangled. Doesn't she trust him? This is basically the plot, and the approach is that of an old-fashioned love story. Rice's women possess the best qualities of romantic myths--loyalty, virtue and devotion. They would never desert the family, and we see the world through their finely tuned sensibilities. The setting is the family enclave in Connecticut--a never-never land of the semi-rich.

This is a contemporary novel, but for the women in this book the modern concepts of feminism don't seem to exist. The women's liberation movement never touched this particular Connecticut realm. Love, you see, revolves around keeping your man. And how better to keep your man than by being always available and at home. So Georgie stays home and tends the hearth until she finds a job that she can do at home.

She invents the Swift Observatory, a clearing house of life's problems such as unfaithful husbands shot by wives. She interviews people on the telephone--finding her sources in the newspaper. The people tell her what they would not tell anyone else. "I would dial, transported by the hollow ringing into another person's life. I envisioned each person I called. They had definite features, families, political views. The minute I heard their voices, they became entire." The presentation of Georgie as an autodidact of sociology is not too convincing. Anyway, Georgie, high school graduate, gets an unlikely grant from a foundation that just happens to be financed by the family of a senior partner in the law firm that employs Nicholas.

Rice creates an interesting character in Georgie's mother, Honora--the ultimate source of keeping-your-man fear. Honora, the deserted wife, was once both a celebrated television weather woman and an actress in a meteorologically oriented show. As the classical abandoned woman, Honora offers her daughters the example that love requires tenacity and that becoming famous is dangerous. Before Georgie goes off to Chicago on a brief trip for the Swift Observatory, Honora gives advice: " 'Be careful,' she said, giving me a big hug. Of what? Of strange men? Of high winds? I didn't flinch or bother to ask what she meant because 'be careful' was as normal a farewell for Honora as 'so long' or 'goodby.' "

Rice shows us only the lives of women. Nicholas and brother-in-law Donald fly off to work in their own airplane--a commuter's dream--and return to Connecticut, the maternal breeding ground, in time for dinner. Honora and her daughters, Georgie and Clare (possessor of two doctorates--one in art and one in biochemistry), are always waiting. Then there is Grandmother Pem, whose senility makes her both pitiful and extremely unbelievable. However, we feel neither the stress nor pain that 24-hour care of a lady who sets fires and is unable to take care of her physical needs must create.

Georgie's romantic uncertainties can be appealing. She is a simple heroine, but she has charm--no consciousness-raising for her. Her concept of sharing is full-time: "For a moment I regretted calling, like a high school girl who likes a boy but fears appearing overeager. But of course Nick and I had been married for eight years. We called each other 10 times a day."

Meanwhile, out in the world, there are those Rosalind Russell types like Jean the lawyer. Nicholas proposes going on a business trip to London with Jean. Can Georgie stay home? Suddenly the Swift Observatory becomes, if not famous, at least known. Enter the Other Man. Mark Constable is the photographer who will take pictures of Georgie for newspaper articles about her.

However, Dear Reader, the course of love eventually runs smooth. The worst that happens is a non-marital kiss and even that causes the heroine to faint.

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