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March 07, 1993|CHARLES SOLOMON

SET FOR LIFE by Judith Freeman (Ballantine: $4.99; 277 pp.). In this smoothly flowing novel, Freeman explores the idea that a family can be a conscious creation as well as an accident of genetics. When a heart transplant gives Phil Doucet a second chance at life, the widowed carpenter is forced to reexamine his decision to withdraw into the beautifully detailed house that has become more of a mausoleum than a home. The returning strength of his body reawakens Doucet's ties to humanity: For the first time in years, he feels pity, and takes a teen-age runaway under his protection, a decision that proves to have far-reaching complications. "Set For Life" moves at a more leisurely pace and seems less intensely personal than Freeman's previous novel, "The Chinchilla Farm."

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