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IN BRIEF

Fiction

February 12, 1995|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

IN THE YEAR OF LONG DIVISION by Dawn Raffel (Knopf: $18; 117 pp.) If E.E. Cummings could have been coaxed into short stories, this is how the language would have behaved. It does not sit still: "Fishing was the only sport in our town. How it was. Pick. Any house in our town was any house in our town. . . . Down was down. Queasy was a way of life. Bored to crackers, snap, kerplunk." And here's what happens when the language sits down: "They were rolling the steam to pave the milk white way, to pave the dazzling path for what was closest to our hearts, for what was swelling and floating and building--brain and heart and marrow--for the strangers, the sharers, quickening and kicking in the dark beneath our skin." Indeed, these stories are injected; there is nothing between the words and the feelings and memories they conjure: Not plot, not characters, not events, not things. If you had to describe a story you would say, "I was scared," or "I remembered," or "It was fast." Here are some phrases from the story, "We Were Our Age," which playfully evokes the emotions of a group of girls on the cusp of adolescence: "We had local standards. Had to. , . . Knee-bang on Formica. . . . Any lapse in our town was mine. Any pause. Any possible yes. . . . Summer--easy. . . . Fell in. Likely. Urge and rage, a boy and girl, and once in, over and over, rage and urge, diving for the thing that would not save us."

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