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IN BRIEF

Fiction

April 04, 1993|KAREN STABINER

21 SUGAR STREET by Lynn Lauber (W.W. Norton & Co.: $19.95; 196 pp.). A haunting, cadenced first novel that continues the story of Loretta and Luther, about whom Lauber first wrote in a set of short stories. Loretta, a white teen-ager whose only personal crisis, so far in her short life, was hitting 100 pounds, gets involved with Luther, a young black man whose ardor makes him brave enough to drive into her Midwestern neighborhood, a place where black people were never seen unless they were working there. Loretta's pregnancy and Luther's marriage to someone else draw other characters into the story--Loretta's self-conscious younger brother Louis, Luther's father-in-law Junior, a local mortician, and Marcia, the doomed adoptive mother. Lauber has a wonderfully understated, conversational style that gives the reader a great sense of intimacy. She is too smart to pontificate about the evils of racism. Instead, she tells small, powerful stories about people who live with it, or try to build a life in spite of it, understanding that evil does not demand operatic acts; Loretta throws one man out of her life simply because he refers to an athlete on television with a racial epithet.

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