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A healing house swap after tragedy

Diet Coke is a herald of new literature, it seems.

An excerpt from Maeve Binchy's latest novel, "Tara Road," has been included with 12-packs in recent weeks. The palm-sized insert intends to lure readers into the world of two women who decide to swap houses after tragedies in their lives.

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But the book, a fast read ideal for the beach or a ski lodge, doesn't cut to the chase as quickly as its soda-can teaser. Like an easy-paced conversation, Binchy takes her time getting readers to the "extraordinary consequences" of the house swap promised on the dust jacket.

The novel's early focus is the marriage of Ria and Danny Lynch. They appear to lead a "charmed" life - with a big house on Tara Road in Dublin, two children, and lots of friends. Attractive Ria spends her days making the house inviting and those around her welcome, while handsome hardworking Danny puts together real estate deals.

Unfortunately, readers know what Ria doesn't learn until page 171: that her husband is a philander. He ultimately falls in love with one of his young, now pregnant, dalliances and tells Ria he is leaving.

An unexpected phone call from Marilyn Vine in Connecticut pushes the story in its promised direction (almost halfway through the book). She knows Danny through his business and tells the woman who answers his home phone her idea before she knows it's Ria.

"Am I talking to Mrs. Lynch?"

"I don't know."

"I beg your pardon?"

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"We are going to get separated, divorced. There's divorce now in Ireland, did you know that?"

"This really was not a good time to ring. I can't tell you how sorry I am."

"No, it was a great time. We'll do it."

"Do what?"

"I'll go to your house, you come to mine, July and August. It's a deal."

Relationships are Binchy's specialty, and she offers plenty of them in "Tara Road." The author neatly sorts out the lives of Ria and Marilyn -whose teenage son was killed in a motorcycle accident -and avoids a storybook ending for the Lynches. Along the way, she also deals with domestic violence and drug abuse (and throws in a smidgen of fortunetelling, as well).

While the novel will likely please most fans, some may miss the depth of Binchy's earlier works, such as "The Glass Lake." But if it's an uncomplicated tale from an Irish storyteller they're after, they've come to the right place.

*Kim Campbell is on the Monitor staff.

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