BOSTON -- First of all, I must confess that I'm a sucker for ''Can This Marriage Be Saved?'' articles. You know the kind I mean. First we get Her Story, then we get His Story. Then we get generic all-purpose advice from the therapist: ''What Jim and Judy need to do is learn to communicate, share their feelings and stay in therapy until we get back to them next month.''
Nevertheless, despite a high tolerance for Tales From the Relationship Crypt, I couldn't bear the latest Hite report. Nine hundred pages of depressing correspondence titled ''Women and Love''? Nine hundred pages of Her Story, or to be specific, 4,500 Herstories? Nine hundred pages of comments on things like ''men's trashy behavior and bad manners'' and why ''most women are unable to get their relationships to change''?
Each time I crawled through Shere Hite's American love desert, a barren place littered with abuse, silence and misunderstandings, to some tiny oasis of happiness, I wanted to stand up and cheer. ''I am so in love with my husband. I'm in love with him because he's such fun to be with: I trust him implicitly.'' Atta girl. Way to go kids.
Each time I heard a male voice in this all-female chorus -- however disparaged by Hite's commentary -- I felt a peculiar urge to root for the underdog. ''There is something to be said for male patterns of a certain amount of privacy and distance.'' Sure there is. I'm not entirely sure what, but there must be.
Author and polemicist Hite made her fame and fortune reporting on female and then on male sexuality. Her method, such as it is, is to pass out questions, turn the answers into a ''study,'' sprinkle it liberally with her own politics, then lob the whole package into the public arena and watch it explode. This time, ''Women and Love'' landed all over Time magazine.
Hite is, and I suspect intends to be, less of a reporter than a provocateur. As scribe of the skirmishes of the sexes, there is no question whose side she's on. ''This book is,'' she writes in the preface, ''. . . a celebration of each other and the greatness of women.''
To achieve this celebration, Hite give 100,000 take-home essay questionnaires to women on the subject of their relationships. She got back answers from 4.5 percent. Assuming that discontented people are much more likely to spend their nights on 127 essay questions, these 900 pages are slanted toward the most unhappily relating women in America.
Consider the statistics of the Hite gripe sampler: 95 percent of the women say they experience emotional and psychological harassment from men in their relationships; 88 percent say men avoid talking about problems; 83 percent say men don't understand the basics of intimacy; and then, perversely, 67 percent of these women assert that men complain more than they do.
There is good reading here among these women's lives, rather like snooping through a true confession record. But there is little surprise. It is no news bulletin that women long for ''communication,'' rich, layered talk about feelings with the men they love. It's hardly a secret that women today suffer ''relationship burnout,'' exhausted from carrying a workload and caring overload. Nor is it a flash that there is still a gap: men are changing, but so are women's expectations.
In my own life, I assume 50 percent of the blame in any relationship. Sometimes I get off lucky. In Hite's world, however, ''it is men's attitudes toward women that are causing the problem.'' This blanket indictment, this wholesale imbalance, distorts the value and the truths spoken by many of the women.
It is too bad that neither these respondents nor Hite gives much credence to men who are trying to achieve their own internal balance: to be strong and not silent. What is missing from this ''report'' is what we in the news business call ''the other side of the story.'' You don't know much about relationships until you get inside both partners. Again and again, reading a wife's lament -- ''Even though my husband says we'll talk each day, he just talks two minutes before he falls asleep, about himself'' -- I wanted to hear from her ''other.''
But man-bashing is not the worst of Hite's crimes. Shallowness is. A massive collection like this ought to move the dialogue -- move the terms of the discussion -- between men and women. All Hite will move is books.