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December 22, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

REMEMBER LAUGHTER by Wallace Stegner (Penguin: 152 pp., $10.95). Originally published in 1937 and long out of print, this prize-winning novella marked Stegner's debut as a fiction writer. An ironic portrait of three unwilling participants in a romantic triangle, "Remember Laughter" has lost none of its power and charm.

Alec and Margaret, the owners of a prosperous farm in early 20th century Iowa, welcome Margaret's free-spirited sister, Elspeth, into their comfortable home. When Elspeth and Alec become lovers, they and Margaret are frozen into roles they play for the remainder of their lives, roles that reduce them to three ciphers. Stegner's fans will be pleased to discover his talent was so evident at the beginning of his career.

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