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June 23, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

RULE OF THE BONE by Russell Banks (HarperPerennial: $10; 390 pp.). Chapman Dorset, the narrator of Banks' highly praised, picaresque novel, is a believable, if not terribly likable, teenage dropout. Taking the alias of Bone, he runs away from his upstate New York home. Banks gradually reveals the roots of Bone's pain and alienation: an emotionally distant mother; a lying, absent father; a sexually abusive stepfather. No one really cares about Bone. "Nobody ever saw me myself, the kid, Chappie, Bone even, no one ever saw me except as a way to satisfy their desires or meet their needs," he says. As he learns about love from the unlikely trio of a muscle-bound biker, an abused little girl and an expatriate Rastafarian, Bone emerges as a genuinely sympathetic character, in a fictionalized portrait of the unhappy runaways who populate the streets of America's cities.

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