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IN BRIEF

Fiction

September 08, 1996|Susan Salter Reynolds

FIRST LOVE by Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco: $18, 86 pp.). There ought to be a detox program where clients are forced to experience only one emotion at a time. Love. Fear. Pain. We could send all the characters in "The Frog" and all the characters in "First Love," a ghoulish crew unleashed by fertile, well-fed imaginations and no small amount of time on the proverbial couch.

"First Love" is the horror story of an 11-year-old girl who is taken by her glamorous (and therefore negligent) mother to live with great-aunt Esther Burkhardt and 25-year-old cousin Jared, an evil seminarian who has got the three emotions mentioned above irretrievably bollixed up. He does, however, provide mental asylum from the girl's almost always absent mother; his ritual abuse becomes a secret that helps her separate from a mother who has essentially abandoned her.

A desperate story, and Joyce Carol Oates' passages about the swamp, the primordial ooze that all this bad behavior climbs from, are lovely and more delicate than the plot, as are her animistic character descriptions: "The attentive grandson drove his grandmother to the clinic and left her and now on his skinny haunches scrambling backward, skittering against the hardwood floor of his bedroom."

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