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December 23, 1990|Charles Solomon.

THE CHINCHILLA FARM by Judith Freeman (Vintage: $9.95) . This highly readable first novel uses a woman's travels as a metaphor for the search for self- knowledge. Verna Flake leaves a crumbling marriage and a grimly righteous Mormon upbringing behind when she quits a flyspeck Utah town for Los Angeles, but she soon discovers that life is no easier at the rainbow's end. The insipid routine of her low-paying office job allows her mind to wander back to her childhood, when she watched a neighbor raise chinchillas in a get-rich-quick scheme. Verna contrasts the devotion of the diminutive rodents, who mate for life and pine away if anything happens to their partners, with her own failed marriage and the messes her friends have made of their lives. The example of the chinchillas enables Verna to overcome her initial resistance and establish what she hopes will be a more permanent bond with a nervous composer.

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