By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated November 03, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

Fault Lines: Anne Rivers Siddons (HarperCollins, $24) In her earlier novels Hill Towns and Outer Banks, Siddons did her Southern roots proud, assembling a cast of characters like a hostess arranging a perfect dinner party. The guests were interesting enough that we wanted to sit beside them, but not so extraordinary as to make us worry that we had food on our faces. In Fault Lines, Siddons’ narrator, Merritt, is well mannered and sympathetic. Unfortunately, her list of woes is so long, you want to bolt from your seat after the soup is served. There’s the possibly philandering husband; his senile mother; their anorexic daughter ; Merritt’s sister who’s lost her way in California. By the time Merritt gets on a plane to rescue her by-then-runaway child and discovers her own worth in the arms of an earthquake-predicting, mountain-living hermit, even Siddons’ elegant prose can’t temper the misery. ”You have to stop crying, Merritt, because I simply can’t stand it anymore,” Mountain Man finally implores, and she does. If only she could have heard the reader’s similar lament at least 200 pages earlier. C+