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“I sometimes feel like flinching from the self portrayed in these pages,” writes Lauren Slater in the introduction to “Playing House,’’ her new book, “a self as selfish as she is honest.” This admission is astute — throughout these 18 essays, most of which map the difficult territory of family, sex, and aging, Slater’s voice is aggressively, even unsettlingly, candid. While her honesty is perfect in some moments, in others it’s masochistic or cruel. She is not at all times likeable. And yet Slater’s attempt to make a family in spite of her own painful past, abusive mother, and fractured childhood seems downright heroic — a painful quest against long odds to avoid her own mother’s bitter madness, to replace violence with tenderness.