cover image Blind Tongues

Blind Tongues

Sterling Watson. Delta, $7.95 (234pp) ISBN 978-0-440-55007-5

Swinford, Fla., is a small town populated with stock characters, among them the novel's protagonist, Merelene Durham. She is an abandoned wifeand a survivor: the self-taught, indispensable secretary to and lover of the town lawyer. Then Merelene's husband, Mayfield, returns to Swinford a self-made millionaire and tries to reclaim his family. But their oldest son is fighting in Vietnam, and their youngest, Roland, the brain-damaged victim of a childhood bout of encephalitis, has been forcibly committed to a state mental institution (on a premise readers will find unbelievable). Merelene's lifeand much of the novelis too frequently described rather than simply shown. Watson ( Weep No More , The Calling ) offers an often clumsy narrative overwrought with poetics that fluctuate between country-western artiness (``I feel your fingers on the strings of my nerves'') and very occasional moments of charm (``She felt her heart gather pace, and told it, slow down, but it was the heart that had always galloped at the mention of Mayfield's name, and it did not obey her''). (Feb.)