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IN BRIEF

Fiction

June 02, 1991|Sharon Dirlam

NOW YOU SEE IT by Cornelia Nixon (Little, Brown & Co. $17.95; 158 pp.). Each of the seven concise chapters tries to understand one character from another character's point of view. In spite of this artful distancing, the reader comes away with a solid acquaintance of the family members under the narrative microscope, if not an intimate appreciation of them. The main character is Edward Hooper, a pipe-smoking professor who travels from Harvard to Berkeley shortly after World War II. As he sees it, his wife Ella, with her German accent and superior air, interferes with his image of himself. One comes to understand how a man feels with an overly competent wife. There are glimpses of Berkeley in the late '60s, brief mentions of bouts with polio, drug episodes, free love and war protests. Many such segments could be entitled "notes for a novel." Some of the characters come to life; all of them seem worth knowing. Their situations, as described, are complicated. But the complexity is only outlined, not explored, somewhat like peering into a cave instead of venturing inside. As the last narrative voice says in the final sentence, the way to navigate a high roof is: "Don't look down."

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