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IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 01, 1993|KAREN STABINER

UPSTATE by Sallie Bingham . (The Permanent Press: $21.95, 128 pp.) On a literal level, Ann and David are rich enough to have left Manhattan for a place in the country, but their marriage is pretty much bankrupt. What galvanizes Ann's growing discomfort is Edwin, a flirtatious therapist who seems good for little beyond stirring up troubling relationships and then abandoning them. Her affair with Edwin dies a predictable death, but it gives Ann the momentum to walk away from her marriage--and her past, since much of the action revolves around an auction she has set up to sell off most of the family's possessions; she has told her three children that each may keep a single item, and nothing more. It is easy to understand Ann's frustration, at her silent, passive, aloof husband, but she is so poisoned by her anger, as Bingham portrays her, so capable of offhanded cruelty to her children, that it is hard to care about what happens to her. The story is unremittingly bleak. Ann is a character who cannot be satisfied, except for occasional moments when she lets down her defenses and remembers how she adores her children. There is a terrible bitterness at the center of this story, as though all that Bingham can imagine for her characters is the narrowest of escapes; enlightenment is too much to hope for.

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