By Troy Patterson
July 19, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Whore's Child

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THE WHORE’S CHILD Richard Russo (Knopf, $24) The juiciest first line is from a story within the wry title story: ”It was my hatred that drew me deeper into the Church.” An elderly nun imposes herself on a college writing class, drafting an account of her miserable life as a bride of Jesus that unnerves her professor and spurs him to reassess his own sins. Russo may be most famous for last year’s Empire Falls, a Pulitzer Prize winner about blue-collar Maine, but the seven stories here are more in the vein of his campus novel Straight Man. (And one, ”The Farther You Go,” finds the hero of that novel mulling over an old affair.) The characters are often thinking men confronting their thoughtlessness. They’re drawn well enough to be memorable, but their flyweight predicaments — another load of middle-class, middle-aged muddles — are decidedly not.

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