Coming of age in the '80s

Stolen Goods, by Susan Dworkin. New York: Newmarket Press. 265 pp. $16.95. Anna Karavajian, the central character of this bright first novel, is a young woman of the unconventional '80s. She drives a truck to work - and owns the company. Her lower Manhattan loft apartment is furnished in dust-resistant rattan, Lucite, and chrome. To relax at the end of the day, she turns up the bass and boogies to Tina Turner's chart-busting ``Private Dancer.''

As American as apple pie and Bruce Springsteen, Anna is also a product of the Old Country. The youngest of three sisters reared by intense Armenian parents, she's the focus of numerous first-generation anxieties. Her mother worries that Anna will never marry. Her father worries that her lack of financial acumen will destroy the small business he worked so hard to establish.

As author Susan Dworkin charts Anna's emotional coming of age after the death of her young fianc'e, readers will find themselves cheering each step of the way, she's so likable. Her family and friends are likable, too, if occasionally kooky. It's a cast made in sitcom heaven.

The immediate attraction of ``Stolen Goods'' depends on witty writing, tantalizing dialogue, and evocative images. Not all of it works - hair that ``splattered the pillows like an oil spill'' is a bit cloying. But Dworkin pushes many an inventive button.

In a sense, the strength of her work derives from its timeliness. In an era of increasing public scrutiny of ethics in politics, business, and televangelism, Dworkin sets out to explore the ramifications of private morality. Anna has been raised by a father/mentor who never took kickbacks, who declined to print girlie calendars even when he could have used the business. Yet she's drawn to a lover who contends that ``stealing is a way of life in this country.'' How she balances her own concept of integrity with compassion for those she loves makes for a warmly encouraging story.

At the same time, morality, as delineated here, has curious borders. There's enough bed-hopping and light-blue language to show Anna still has some growing to do. But her unfinished odyssey has much appeal, especially for female fellow travelers.

Diane Manuel is a free-lance book reviewer.


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