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Review of the novel Southern Women

Southern Women. By Lois Battle. (St. Martin's, $14.95.) In Southern Women, Lois Battle, author of the best seller 'War Brides, depicts three generations of Southern women represented by the female line of a prominent Savannah family. Eunnonia Grace Hampton, known as Nonnie, is matriarch of the clan; over 70 when widowhood permits her her first real independence, she is now, at 83, a vital force in local real estate and a woman of enlightened social views. Lucille Hampton Simpkins, her youngest daughter, has devoted her life to cultivating those traditional feminine charms that only fleetingly satisfy her vanity and leave her vulnerable at 50 to a consummate roue. Lucille's daughter, Cordy, 30, wants more from life than her marital bed can provide, and has become a romance novelist. The book begins when Cordy, after leaving Chicago and her husband, returns home to Savannah. Soon she has the chance to spend a month or more alone in New York, and Nonnie urges her, ''Do somethin' better. An' for more money.'' By the end, several months and 300 pages later, Cordy has both done and become something better. She's coped with loneliness in Manhattan; she's completed and sold an ambitious work of biography; she's divorced her husband and entered a mutually respectful relationship with the man who has always loved her. There are elements of soap opera here, as well as a clear feminist theme - simply, fulfillment comes from being one's own person, not someone else's. But Southern Women goes beyond genre fiction or tract. Written with insight, it has a large, well-drawn cast of characters that makes it both absorbing and convincing.

- Miriam Berkley