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February 23, 1992|Charles Solomon

THE HOUR OF THE STAR by Clarice Lispector, translated by Giovanni Pontiero (New Directions: $8.95). In this odd, brief novel, the late Brazilian writer follows a minor clerical worker through her bleak existence in the slums of Rio. Skinny, sallow and socially maladroit, Macabea is so hopelessly alienated that she makes Meursault in Camus' "The Stranger" look like a good-time Charlie. The anonymous narrator confesses that he does not understand the fascination this half-imagined, half-observed young woman holds for him, but his often playful reflections leaven this unhappy and vaguely fantastic tale, rescuing it from superficial bathos.

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