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IN BRIEF

Fiction

March 15, 1992|CHRIS GOODRICH

THE LOST UPLAND by W. S. Merwin (Alfred A. Knopf: $22; 307 pp.). W. S. Merwin, the poet and translator, has lived in France on and off for many years, and in "The Lost Upland" he lovingly describes the lives of a few residents of the Dordogne. The book is ultimately a disappointment, however, for the three stories it contains are not well shaped; two commence in medias res and continue with few interesting developments and little sense of context, while a third, "Shepherds," is a meandering tale best thought of as memoir. Merwin writes some nice scenes--a priest and a vintner testing the curative powers of a spring in "Blackbird's Summer"--and provides some fine, almost cinematic reportage--in "Shepherds," of a fatal encounter between a train and a flock of sheep--but such passages are overshadowed by long, quotidian conversations and seemingly endless evocations of local society. Serious Francophiles will undoubtedly find these detailed descriptions attractive, but many readers are likely to wonder why Merwin finds his subjects so compelling. The central figure in "Foie Gras," Le Comte d'Allers, is typical:: One enjoys meeting this haughty, poverty-struck, freeloading nobleman, but it's soon clear that this rogue is charmless and not worth much time.

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