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Exploring the slippery nature of desire

Love Creeps
By Amanda Filipacchi
St. Martin’s, 289 pp., $23.95

The Twins of Tribeca
By Rachel Pine
Miramax, 384 pp., $23.95

Heavens to Betsy
By Beth Pattillo
WaterBrook, 288 pp., paperback, $12.99

It's almost summer, and a little light reading goes with the season. These three novels are funny and diverting, each in a different way.

Amanda Filipacchi's inventive anti-romance ''Love Creeps" is a dark comedy set in a slightly surreal contemporary Manhattan, the kind of cranky landscape we've come to know from Woody Allen movies. Three extremely neurotic main characters are brought together by stalking, an unlikely subject for humor, but in Filipacchi's off-kilter fictional world, it's hilarious. She uses stalking to explore the unpredictability of sexual attraction and the impossibility of controlling one's life. Her style is reminiscent in certain ways of Muriel Spark. It's brisk, witty, knowing, mischievous.

Art gallery owner Lynn Gallagher used to yearn passionately for all sorts of things -- travel, shopping, food, men, discovering new artists. Lately she's lost the ability to want anything, and she misses the excitement of desire. Lynn has recently acquired a stalker, a pudgy, unattractive accountant, Alan Morton, who follows her obsessively. She notices that his passion for her makes his face glow with happiness. Her own face, she thinks, looks dead by comparison. So, in one of the many odd twists in this story, she decides to take up stalking herself, hoping that it will jump-start her desire. She chooses her victim, good-looking attorney Roland Dupont, more or less at random.

As the story progresses, the order of stalking keeps changing, and the love triangle spins crazily through the city, from meetings of Stalkers Anonymous to adult-ed classes in beading and pet acupressure and ''How to Access the Goddess Within." Roland stalks Lynn, Lynn stalks Alan, Lynn and Roland stalk Alan, etc. Their stalking is all out in the open, as the three obsessive, unbalanced urban victims get together to discuss and analyze every absurd nuance of their ever-changing relationships. Their comings and goings are observed and commented on by Ray, a neighborhood homeless man who offers advice, of a sort: ''Join a dating service, a choir. Take a break, an antidepressant. Get hold of yourself." ''Love Creeps" is a rare treat. It's intelligent, and perceptive about the slippery nature of desire. And it's extraordinarily funny.

''The Twins of Tribeca" is described by its publisher as being ''in the best-selling tradition of 'The Devil Wears Prada.' " Obviously tradition just isn't what it used to be, but that's beside the point. The publisher hopes that Rachel Pine's thinly veiled account of working for the impossible Weinstein brothers at Miramax Films will outsell Lauren Weisberger's thinly veiled account of working for the impossible Anna Wintour at Vogue. Interestingly, the publisher is owned by the very same impossible Weinsteins. Maybe they bought the book in hopes of defusing potential controversy. Perhaps they decided not to allow personal animus to stand in the way of profit. Or maybe they didn't read the manuscript. It's most unflattering.

Earnest young film buff Karen Jacobs lands a dream job at Glorious Pictures, working for Phil and Tony Waxman, the influential, controversial twins who cofounded the studio and named it after their mother, Gloria. Karen is immediately thrust into the howling maelstrom of the publicity department, where she must deal with the spoiled actors who appear in the studio's films, their giant egos, infantile tantrums, impossible demands, odious manners, and various forms of insanity. She also has to cater to the whims of her mercurial boss, Allegra, and the backstabbing and general mean-spiritedness of her fellow workers. And then there are the twins, who are incredibly nasty to each other when they're not being incredibly nasty to their employees.

''Twins" is entertaining, and no doubt will be big at the beach this summer. However, anyone looking for a solid plot or character development will be disappointed. The fun is in the dishy anecdotes. Despite the requisite disclaimer on the copyright page, this book invites readers to speculate about the identities of the barely fictionalized stars, among them Robert De Niro, Billy Bob Thornton, and Woody Harrelson. The films are disguised too, sort of. ''The English Patient" becomes ''The Foreign Pilot," ''Sling Blade" is ''Hacksaw," and so forth. ''The Twins of Tribeca" will be of interest to readers who relish movie-industry gossip, and to those who may wonder what it's like to work as a publicist for a major studio.

Beth Pattillo's ''Heavens to Betsy" is a funny, charmingly irreverent novel written by a woman minister about a woman minister looking for love in what appears to be the wrong place, i.e., church. It's more than a romance, though. It's a story about friendship, the fear of failure, and finding the perfect shade of lipstick for the clergy (''Neutral But Naughty").

Rev. Betsy Blessing, who narrates her story, is associate minister of a ''graying, dying" downtown Nashville church. She's thinking of quitting the ministry and going to law school. She's tired of bumping her head against the stained glass ceiling, tired of parishioners who will never accept a woman minister, tired of people saying, ''A lovely girl like you should be married by now." She couldn't agree more. ''A thirty-year-old, single woman minister lives in dating Siberia," she silently laments as she conducts yet another wedding ceremony.

Betsy is surprised when her feelings for an old divinity school friend, the Rev. Dr. David Swenson, take a romantic turn. She's never thought of him in those terms, and it's clear that he thinks of her as a buddy.

When the senior minister at her church retires unexpectedly, Betsy reluctantly steps in for him temporarily and takes on a new set of problems even more challenging than her unsatisfactory love life. Pattillo writes with graceful good humor, and with an insider's knowledge of church problems and politics.

Diane White writes every month about new light and popular fiction.

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