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IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 07, 1994|ERIKA TAYLOR

ACTS OF LOVE by Emily Listfield. (Viking: $20.95; 374 pp.) The way you feel about a novel a few days after you've finished it, is, in many ways, just as important as the experience of reading. Some books leave a bad taste that grows over time, while others just get better and better the more you think about them. Emily Listfield's fourth novel, "Acts of Love," falls squarely into the second category.

Set in upstate New York, the story coalesces around a single tragic event that forever changes the lives of every character. Ted Waring and his wife, Ann, have separated after many years of marriage. Their two young daughters--angry, morose Julia and Ali, who is always eager to please--go on a hunting trip with Ted, during which he confides how desperately he hopes to reconcile with Ann. Dropping the kids off at the end of the weekend, Ted and Ann have a fight. Ted's gun fires. Ann is dead. Julia, who was in the room, claims her father purposely killed her mother, but Ted insists that Julia lunged at him, making the gun fire.

Exactly what happened in the seconds before Ann's death is only one of the many questions that drives this oddly beautiful, compelling novel. Every character has a secret. Every secret causes great pain. Great pain and betrayal are, in a way, just as responsible for Ann's death as the actual gun. Listfield is brilliant at knowing exactly when to hold back and when to let go of information. She changes viewpoints at wonderfully unpredictable moments, sometimes in the middle of a scene. Her characters, even the ones who do terrible things, are deeply sympathetic. It's impossible not to instantly recognize and care for these flawed people. They are us.

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