Coming of age, New York City, 1925

In the City, by Joan Silber. New York: Viking. 246 pp. $16.95. Pauline Samuels and her friend Bunny live in Newark, look down on the ``fatuousness'' of their fellow high school students, and dream of living in Greenwich Village. After graduation, she finds a job in New York - just to make ends meet - moves into a room of her own - less strikingly stark than she'd imagined - and sets out to feed her ``hunger for freedom.'' Already, as she learns to her chagrin, the bohemian life style has become a clich'e: It is, after all, 1925! But Pauline is still determined to taste the new freedom, and so she plunges cheerfully into the scene. Her humor, intelligence, and common sense balance her eagerness, foolhardiness, and youthful pretentiousness.

In 1920s' New York, Joan Silber has found her perfect backdrop for Pauline's blend of sweetness and sophistication. From the arch witticisms of high school humor to the sardonically undercutting rumblings of Pauline's suspicious immigrant parents, to the self-conscious sophistication of the literary and artistic types she meets in the Village, every intonation of voice and dialogue is utterly convincing. Whether Joan Silber, who won praise and a prize for her first novel, ``Household Words,'' has been born with the literary equivalent of perfect pitch or whether she has attained the gift of such poised and graceful prose through endless fine-tuning, the result is truly a pleasure to read.

``In the City'' looks back on an earlier time - adolescence - and an earlier era - the 1920s - with affection and compassion, but without the least hint of condescension, capturing the feel of its time and place with the immediacy of felt experience and the wisdom of experienced feelings.

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