April 28, 1986 12:00 PM

by Richard Lemon

Billy Buffum, the hero of this sweetly comic novel, is a writer for a newsmagazine in New York. He lives in the suburb of Mill Falls, and he is a Democratic councilman in Republican country. Then after 18 years of marriage, his wife goes off with a richer man, and Buff urn’s confidence is shot. Enter the heroine of The Probity Chorus, an actress named Cindy Ballou. She is not only beautiful, but has a proper Boston background and is the star of a new musical film that happens to be pornographic. It is inevitable that Buffum will be sent to interview Cindy. (She dumps a Caesar salad over her head in annoyance at his open admiration.) What is not inevitable is that, cynical as she is about men, Cindy will fall in love with him. She buys a house nearby and Buffum’s friends accept her with an ease no one has any right to expect. But there are a lot of people in town who do not want to see Cindy’s film open at the local shopping center. The best thing about this delightful comedy of manners, in fact, is its steady stream of surprises. The town preacher, for example, is expected to denounce the porno movie, but when he sees it, he confesses to the congregation that he doesn’t know what to make of it, and his honesty makes him a kind of national celebrity. This is a first novel by Lemon, 55, a senior editor at PEOPLE and a former editor at Newsweek and the New York Daily News Magazine. His writing about marriage, divorce, sex and morality is distinguished by a special kind of humor that is loving and thoroughly original. (Norton, $15.95)

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