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February 25, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

SMALL CEREMONIES by Carol Shields (Penguin: $10.95; 181 pp.). If she were a little more insightful, Judith Gill, the narrator of "Small Ceremonies," might realize how closely she resembles the subject of the biography she's writing, "a generous, humorous woman who feeds on anecdotes and random philosophical devotions, sucking what she can out of daily events, the whole of her life glazed over with a neat edge-to-edge surface." As Gill probes beneath the nicely beveled surface of her upper-middle class existence, she discovers how little she knows about the lives of her husband, son and daughter. Learning to know herself provides the key to understanding others in this engaging short novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Stone Diaries."

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