By Christopher Sorrentino (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 516 pages, $26)

Christopher Sorrentino's second novel purports to be a fictional account of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst's involvement with the Symbionese Liberation Army, but clues sprinkled throughout the book hint that it is really a secret history of another '70s icon, the Partridge Family. The first clue is the book's cover, which features a blurred photo of a woman's face, obviously meant to look like Hearst's. But closer examination reveals an uncanny resemblance to...Laurie Partridge.

Trance opens in Los Angeles (the Partridges' hometown) in May 1974, where the SLA has fled after kidnapping Hearst (the character is renamed Alice Galton in Sorrentino's novel) and robbing the Hibernia Bank with Hearst/Galton as an accomplice. Early in the novel (on May 16, 1974), six SLA members die in a burning house surrounded by the LAPD (Galton is spared). Is it merely coincidence that The Partridge Family, then in its fourth season, went into reruns in May 1974 before being dropped by ABC in August? (Or that Susan Dey, who played Laurie, was the only cast member whose acting career thrived after the series?) Another troubling question: Is the character named Cinque based on real-life SLA leader Donald DeFreeze or does he actually represent the dark side of Partridges manager Reuben Kincaid?

Here's a passage from Trance (page 139) that appears straightforward on its surface: "The SLA was unloved within the Movement, that's for sure. At best they were considered a joke; at worst they were suspected of being a front for the CIA." If we read between the lines, though, we can superimpose Sorrentino's dual meaning: "The [Partridge Family] was unloved within the [rock music industry], that's for sure. At best they were considered a joke; at worst they were suspected of being a front for the [Brady Bunch]." Searching for hidden Partridge Family parallels distracts readers from the fact that this is a bloated, tedious novel filled with tortuous internal monologues and snarky cultural references, but not a single character as interesting as a fake family of rock stars on a silly '70s TV show.

Christopher Sorrentino reads at 7:30 pm Thursday, July 28, at Powell's Books on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 238-1668. Free.