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IN BRIEF

Fiction

February 16, 1992|CHRIS GOODRICH

AS MUCH AS I KNOW: Stories by Susan Thames (Random House: $19; 193 pp.). In the not-too-distant future, I predict, the art of plotting will make a comeback in the world of fiction. And it truly is an art. Pick up most any literary fiction these days and you'll likely discover that the story line is driven by the writer's skill at language and characterization rather than the cuts and bruises of meaningful experience. In the first four stories of Susan Thames' collection, "As Much as I Know," the plotting--although sometimes dramatic, involving revelations of incest and killing--is no more than a device, and the result is that Thames' three-dimensional characters appear to live in a two-dimensional world. The exception to the foregoing is the title novella, a moving story in which a hitchhiker, after 10 years of wandering, returns with her daughter to her own childhood home, and learns during these final days on the road that strangers can be more accommodating than kin. There are interesting people and episodes to be found in these stories, but on the whole, they feel like studio portraits, observed rather than understood.

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