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IN BRIEF

Fiction

November 20, 1994|DICK RORABACK

SPLIT SKIRT by Agnes Rossi (Random House: $20; 256 pp.) Two women in the slammer. How did they get there? Why did they get there? Agnes Rossi explains, in a psychological study of lives gone awry. Plunked by chance into the same cell of the Bergen County (N.J.) Jail are Rita, three days for DUI and possession of a smidgen of cocaine, and Mrs. Tyler, also three days, for shoplifting. (It's always Mrs. Tyler , no first name, to set her off as something of a lady. Rita is no lady.) Their travails, examined lovingly and at length, stem (surprise!) from their husbands. Both women are battered, neither physically. Rita's aloof Alex treats her with indifference bordering on scorn since their wedding day (at which, doubting her own motives, Rita materializes with the grandmother of hangovers). Alex expects her to cope with his two children while he dallies with their mother, his ex, a law student. Mrs. Tyler's case is more complex. A resilient Texas survivor of poverty, she marries into wealth--and intimidation, at the hands of the mother and hollow business associates of husband John. The reasons behind her shoplifting are contorted; the act extrudes an almost physical rush of guilt and glee; the effect on her husband, and especially her four children, is devastating. Predictably, Rita and Mrs. Tyler become friends, each wiser and stronger for her quarantine. A semi-stimulating study, perhaps not worth $20.

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