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by Elizabeth Mitchell

THE PROTAGONIST in eachof the seven short stories in Helen Pereira`s Wild Cotton (Killick, 148 pages,$11.95 paper) is a woman struggling with selfdoubt. These characters desirechange -- from the superficial to the hardcore -- andthe crux of this change is control. Pereira speaks of anolder generation of women who have carved their identities through otherpeople. In all these stories, with the exception of the title piece, in whichMolly has lived vicariously through a close female friend, each woman`sidentity is defined through her male counterpart, real or imagined. In"Bell Curves," Alice O`Connell seeks liberation through afictionalized lover -- the zipless, cure-all affair that willunleash her latent artistic genius -- while Amy Campbell, mother oftwo in "Foreign Correspondent," goes off to Cuba just before themissile crisis, only to discover a Latin passion that changes her outlook onlife. Pereira`s mild, late-harvestfeminism is laced with an idealized romanticism that undermines her intent. TO befair, given her characters` age, situation, and the time in which the storiestake place (which is not always clear), these women are being assertive.Unfortunately, they are not particularly interesting, and Pereira`s sometimesvague and often motherly style distracts from story-lines that are notclearly defined.

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