Books: The Blues

LISTENING TO BILLIE by Alice Adams Knopf; 215 pages; $7.95

For as long as one cares to remember, journalism and sociology have been the novel's boorish guests, wolfing down plots, ideologies and still smoking events in the name of fiction, although not necessarily in its spirit. Yet the novel tolerates nearly everything except a lack of persuasive characters.

Alice Adams seems marginally aware of this in her new novel whose title atmospherically refers to Blues Singer Billie Holiday. The book spans roughly 20 years: from the '50s, when an author's "sensibility" was all, to the '60s and '70s, when private ironies and quiet...

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