May 11, 1998 12:00 PM

by Reynolds Price

Like a good movie, Price’s 11th novel starts off with a riveting scene: On her 20th birthday (in 1920), Roxanna is delivered by her brother to the doorstep of the Slade family in North Carolina in the hope that she and the family’s golden son Larkin will fall in love and marry. The two swoon immediately, but that same day, Larkin drowns in a nearby river while Roxanna watches. Soon after, the young woman weds the less-beloved Slade brother, Palmer.

After that, the now elderly Roxanna relates, things happened. Countless things. Like a fireside storyteller, Price (the author of 1986’s Kate Vaiden) heaps on one event after another without any apparent design. Promising characters disappear; others pop up just in time for a major plot twist. In the end we don’t particularly care about Roxanna, but after she has recounted all her 90 years, we wish she had led a shorter, less eventful life. (Scribner, $25)

Bottom Line: A yarn that turns into a yawn

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