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There's much to like in Ursula Hegi's forcefully written novel (Simon & Schuster; 235 pages; $22) of child abuse and parental desertion. The author's strengths -- an unfailing immediacy of language and real, vivid scenes that command attention -- are all on display. But the book's structure, saysTIME's John Skow, "might have been designed by a committee to illustrate how bitter, unresolved childhood memories can be coped with." What we're left with is a plot straight out of a bad soap opera, and even a writer as gifted as Hegi can't dress it up as anything else.