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Notes From the Country Club

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It’s not every novel that comes with a dust-jacket blurb from a convicted murderer-in this case, Jean Harris, the prep school headmistress who shot her cheating lover, Scarsdale Diet doctor Herman Tarnower. In the case of Kim Wozencraft’s Notes From the Country Club (Houghton Mifflin, $19.95), however, Harris’ is an appropriate endorsement. The ”country club” in question is the Veritas unit of the Fort Worth Federal Correctional Institution, where a government psychiatrist must determine whether heroine Cynthia Mitchell is sane enough to stand trial for the stabbing death of her abusive husband, Daniel. The gist of Jean Harris’ defense, readers may recall, was that she’d taken a gun to Tarnower’s house intending to commit suicide, but plugged the womanizing rat by accident. No such halfhearted measures for Wozencraft’s luxuriantly embittered protagonist, a freelance public relations expert lured from her successful Manhattan career back to her native Texas by a smooth- talking airline pilot who not only commences to beat her like a yard dog but also seduces her sister, Alice. Few one-dimensional cardboard villains in the history of pseudo-feminist fiction have so badly needed killing, but the abundantly talented writer didn’t need to stack the deck so blatantly. This is what makes Wozencraft’s second outing (after 1990’s much-hyped Rush-loosely based on her life as a former undercover narc) so disappointing. The novel’s minor characters, fellow Veritas inmates for the most part, have a vivid individuality unaccountably lacking in Cynthia and her brute of a husband. There’s more psychologically evocative detail in Garth Brooks’ country song ”The Thunder Rolls,” about a battered wife’s revenge, than in all 200-plus pages of Notes From the Country Club. C Photo by Dan Borris/Outline