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Picks and Pans Review: The Killing Ground

updated 08/09/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/09/1982 01:00AM

by Mary Lee Settle

Every theme ever used by a Southern novelist has been resuscitated for this big book about a contemporary woman writer who has produced a novel with the same title as Settle's own Oh Beulah Land. Like Thomas Wolfe, she tries to go home again. It's to West Virginia, where insanity, suicide, alcoholism and hints of incest are common. The heroine, who lives in New York, is obsessed by the death of her big brother. The sister sets out to find not what happened (he was beaten to death in the drunk tank) but why. This is a curious, flawed novel. Parts of it read as if Settle, a native West Virginian, is trying to get even with relatives and childhood friends by portraying them fictionally as cruel and dumb. Her mean spirit makes a reader uncomfortable. But she can be wildly funny, and some characters are marvels of clarity; in these days of lean prose, Settle's uninhibited use of language is occasionally a joy. (Farrar Straus Giroux, $14.95)

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