June 29, 1981 12:00 PM

by Lisa Alther

With the publication of her first novel, 1976’s Kin-flicks, Lisa Alther was compared to J.D. Salinger, Mark Twain and Henry Fielding. A blurb from the usually reticent Doris Lessing was printed on the original book jacket. Here Alther, 36, commits the unoriginal sin of many successful first novelists: an overambitious second book. Instead of one picaresque central character, Alther trots out five: the Tatro boys, the Prince girls, and their black friend, the grandson of the Princes’ maid. In a muddled account of their lives in a small Tennessee town and the North, Alther labors to say something about rites of passage in the ’60s. The five dabble in everything from civil rights to homosexuality, trying on and shedding isms like so many layers of clothing. Only in Sally Prince, who turns from a slave of the women’s magazines to a fledgling feminist, does Alther show the insight into character she demonstrated in Kinflicks. Sally’s comic forays into homemaking Southern-style are themselves the germ of a fine little non-panoramic novel—the one Alther will, one hopes, write next time. (Knopf, $13.95)

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