Picks and Pans Review: Heading West

updated 01/11/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/11/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Doris Betts

By making her heroine an extremely well-read librarian, Betts sets herself up to use all kinds of tidy literary references to enrich this novel. There have been other books, such as Anne Tyler's Earthly Possessions, about Southern women who are kidnapped and then feel grateful because the terrible monotony of their lives has ended. But Betts, who teaches writing at the University of North Carolina, goes far beyond this obvious, ironic beginning. In Greenway, N.C., the woman works and looks after an ailing, complaining mother and a slow-witted brother. Her vacation is a camping trip with her bubble-headed sister and the sister's husband. A crazed man, who lives only for momentary sensation, seizes the librarian and takes off in a stolen car. The Grand Canyon becomes a kind of goal, and Betts' description of the herone's first impression as she looks over the rim is marvelous. The novel—which is wildly romantic, wry and funny—is the book that admirers of Betts' short stories have been hoping for. It is about commitment, love, family ties, religion, responsibilities, good,-evil and guilt. It is about being alive with a special kind of awareness. (Knopf, $13.50)

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