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IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 09, 1992|MICHAEL HARRIS

EASY KEEPER by Mary Tannen (Farrar Straus Giroux: $21; 173 pp.) The West is the country of second chances. In the Colorado ski town of Priest Creek, nearly everybody is taking dead aim at self-reinvention. Shane, a former efficiency expert, has become a dude-ranch cowboy. Dixie, an airhead, tries to order her life through "creative imaging." Louis, a pothead, grows his own in a hidden room above his furniture store. Marietta, the local real-estate mogul, yearns for a romantic legend to help sell her lots. Dusty, a chronically broke jack-of-all-trades, supplies such a legend--about a frontier hunchback's love for his brother's wife--for a fee. Dusty loves Lily, a sheep rancher, but so does Foster, a handsome New Yorker who sings ad jingles and longs for a less jaded existence. The only person who seems self-sufficient is Lily--but even with her, appearances can be deceiving.

Mary Tannen ("Second Sight") puts these characters into the equivalent of a laboratory beaker and gives it a brisk shake. Whose dreams will blend with the reality of Priest Creek? Whose will precipitate out, rejected? Tannen's judgments are neither arbitrary nor cruel. "Easy Keeper" is a romantic comedy of unusual subtlety, wit and skill in character-drawing. It's sexy without a single explicit scene. A mark of its quality is that Dixie, the haplessly manipulated and manipulative "Queen of Chaos," who might be the subject of all the self-improvement books ever written, is just as full and realized a character as Lily, who might have written them.

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