September 11, 2000 12:00 PM

by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant

Best friends for 24 years and cowriters of two books, DeBerry and Grant clearly get along better than the two squabbling sisters depicted in the team’s uneven second novel. After their father’s death, Ronnie Frazier and Celeste English discover that they’ve inherited a house down in fictional Prosper, N.C., the town where their parents grew up. Against the wishes of their surly mother, Delia, they head south and into the past. Each too is running away from something: actress Ronnie from her hand-to-mouth existence in Manhattan and the social-climbing Celeste from her crumbling marriage in Buffalo. When Ronnie falls ill in Prosper, Della has no choice but to return and face the secrets she had left behind.

DeBerry and Grant’s collaboration produces some lively banter and evocative descriptions of the rural South. But the book’s three heroines start out so churlish that it’s hard to swallow the ending, in which each is transformed and tidily resettled in her life. Far From the Tree falls far short of reality. (St. Martin’s, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Lands with a thump

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