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IN BRIEF

Fiction

October 16, 1994|DICK RORABACK

SHE FLEW THE COOP by Michael Lee (HarperCollins: $22; 431 pp.) Melancholy is the measure of a storyteller's gift, the regret that attends the close of his book. Some have it, some don't. Michael Lee West has it. We're sad to leave Limoges, Louisiana (pop. 905, give or take), nostalgic for a town that existed initially only in the author's imagination, now in ours, too. West has surrounded us with neighbors--people we've grown to like, or pity, or despise--then set in motion events that will change them, slowly at first, then precipitously. By then we're hooked. Will sweet-tempered Vangie Nepper come to terms with husband Henry, who's diddling DeeDee Robichaux, the clerk at his pharmacy (whose own husband is no less feral for being paraplegic)? Will boozing Burr succeed in beating the hell out of Sophie, town domestic-cum-confessor who has no hell in her at all? Who'll finally tie down bachelor Cab Beaulieu? It sounds like a soap opera but it's far from it. Only a book conceived and executed as well as this one can carry the rhythms and pauses, the smells and tastes and languor and the very continuity of a Southern town and its people, at once flawed and gracious. Well worth a detour.

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