Southern Light

TITLE: SPORTSMAN'S PARADISE

AUTHOR: NANCY LEMANN

PUBLISHER: KNOPF; 256 PAGES; $20

THE BOTTOM LINE: A slow, sly mint julep of a novel.

THEY MAY HAVE LOST THE CIVIL War, but in writing, Southerners often have a sublime authority that allows them to triumph even over thin or attenuated material. Take New Orleans-born Nancy Lemann, for example. Her new novel is very much like her first, the much praised Lives of the Saints (1985). In that book a gently bred young woman lives out a hopeless love for a charming drunk named Claude Collier. Not much plot there, but the story is...

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