BOOKS: SHARPER THAN A SERPENT'S PEN

IN A FINE NEW NOVEL, JAMAICA KINCAID TAKES HER OBSESSION WITH POISONOUS MOTHER-DAUGHTER BONDS A STRANGE STEP FURTHER

PUZZLING OVER WHY Jamaica Kincaid gave the title she did to the novel she wrote, The Autobiography of My Mother (Farrar Straus Giroux; 228 pages; $20), is one of the season's better literary games. The book's striking central figure, apparently a fictional portrait of Kincaid's mother, aborts her only pregnancy at age 15 and is in fact childless--making a logical contradiction of the title. The reward here, as always with Kincaid's work, is the reading of her clear, bitter prose.

Kincaid is the most personal of writers, and by now most readers will follow the particulars of a new novel from...

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