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IN BRIEF

Fiction

July 11, 1993|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

YOU NEVER KNOW, stories by Isabel Huggan. (Viking: $20; 241.) Some of the roles women play in these quiet stories will be familiar, others will not. Sister, daughter, wife, girlfriend, mother; they're all here--the rock and the hard place of affection, desire and responsibility. "I ask you, ladies and gentlemen," says the pregnant woman contemplating adultery in "The Violation," to her mock jury, "Would a woman trying to discourage a man's attentions serve him lunch like that? This was not rape, my friends, this was the result of a culinary invitation!" Keeping love alive, wanting children, not wanting children, wanting honest, important work: These are the battles Huggan's characters fight. But in all of their stories the inner life floats above the daily life, which they carry out dutifully and without public trauma. "I cannot get comfortable," thinks the woman in "Losing Face," a story about trying to fit into another culture, another skin. "I see myself as from above. . . . Like some kind of ugly great fish . . . I am a fish out of water." The rebellions are small, very small, like Orpha, the woman who knits and knits to foster the appearance of calm and order, and stands one day to let her knitting fall into the river so that it "seemed like an accident." More often, the women get used, forced to play the roles, like the woman in "The Color of Money," who, despite all her conscientious awareness of patronage and colonial dependence, is drawn into a relationship in which she gives money to an old Kikuyu woman. What she wanted was friendship.

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