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IN BRIEF

Fiction

April 21, 1996|CHRIS GOODRICH

J. EDEN by Kit Reed (University Press of New England/Hardscrabble Books: $24.95; 307 pp.). Think of Waugh, Nabokov, the Amises--yes, it's possible to write good novels in which none of the characters are sympathetic, in which the reader fails to identify with anyone. It's a hard trick to pull off, however, is proves an insurmountable problem in "J. Eden." Three New York City couples, 40-ish and apparently successful, have banded together to rent a run-down farm in the Massachusetts Berkshires; it's a conventional "Big Chill"-ish situation, one in which a midlife crisis or two will manifestly bring things to a head. But there are adolescents present as well--perhaps they will provide some relief from the careerism and general phoniness (as Holden Caulfield would say) of their progenitors? Alas, no: The kids are rotters too, acting out in response to parental neglect and selfishness. Kit Reed's version of the summer-share parable promises at times to be effective but ultimately sinks because her city folk are little more than blots disfiguring the landscape.

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