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November 05, 1995|CHARLES SOLOMON

IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS by Tim O'Brien (Penguin: $10.95; 303 pp.). John Wade, the focus of this critically praised bestseller, appears to be an able young man moving up the political ladder in Minnesota--until his unsavory past is revealed during a senatorial campaign. O'Brien skillfully unfolds the disturbing story of a man who retreated from an unhappy childhood into the illusions of sleight of hand: "One way or another, we all perform vanishing tricks, effacing history, locking up our lives and slipping day by day into graying shadows. Our whereabouts are uncertain. All secrets lead to the dark, and beyond the dark there is only maybe." But Wade's skill as a prestidigitator can't erase the dark secret of his actions in Vietnam. As his world crumbles around him, his lovely wife disappears on the vast Lake of the Woods, precipitating this tantalizing mystery.

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