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February 11, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

JACK OF HEARTS by Joseph Hansen (Plume/Penguin: $10.95; 214 pp.). Set in early 1941, Hansen's novel depicts an ominous time in American history and in the life of its central character, Nathan Reed. At 17, Nathan is just beginning to discover his talent as a writer and his sexuality. When he joins the junior college newspaper and the clique involved in a local theater, he realizes he has left his ineffectual parents behind. In his portrait of Nathan, Hansen captures the confusion, enthusiasm and uncertainty of a budding writer. The supporting characters are less well realized, but their defects detract little from the affecting story.

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