RICH REWARDS

Here, more than ever, Adams (Listening to Billie, Beautiful Girl) seems to be dressing up women's-magazine fiction as serious literary work—with some style but little real authority. The lady in romantic disarray this time is 40-year-old Daphne, long-divorced and big-breasted and new to San Francisco—where she's come to be custodian/renovator/decorator in her old chum Agatha's just-purchased house in posh Pacific Heights. (Agatha's late father, a shady General, has left her a fortune.) And Daphne is determined to do without men for a while, since she's "addicted to even the most miserable forms of love": past lover Jake was a junkie; recent lover Derek is a pig; only Jean-Paul of Paris, her adulterous love of long ago, was a sweetie (not to mention "the beautiful unforgettable shape of his cock"), but she let him get away—and now he's a "leading Socialist economic theorist." Still, Daphne, who has made "a career out of personal relationships," does let herself get somewhat emotionally involved. She has sexy fantasies about "beautiful" carpenter Tony—who turns out, alas, to be a sometime homosexual prostitute. She meets the Houston family: handsome blond Royce (who'll have an affair with physician Agatha), dark wife Ruth (who'll temporarily go mad), wool-sculptor Caroline (who'll turn lesbian), flaky son Whitey (who'll beat up Caroline and then go off to Alaska to get killed in a fight). And finally Daphne will discover that old flame Jean-Paul is teaching at Berkeley—so there's a Clairol-commercial reunion ("We praised and blessed each other, for everything") with a happy fadeout. . . though J-P may have a terminal disease. What does all this add up to? Very little, despite an attempt to relate Daphne's "emotional temperature-taking" to "the proliferation of violence" in the 1970s (not only the Houston family, but also a possible link between Agatha's money and the murder of Chile's Allende!)—an awkward stab at metaphor even less convincing than the use of Billie Holliday in Listening to Billie. Nor does Daphne's narrative strongly engage on the simplest storytelling level: the supporting cast remains faceless (partly because of Adams' limited-vocabulary obsession with "beautiful" people); there's no tension, despite heavy foreshadowing throughout; and Adams seems never to have decided whether archly self-centered narrator Daphne is a character or just a generalized alter ego. Painless—but the thinnest work yet from an initially alluring, superficially polished, increasingly banal and repetitive writer.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1980

ISBN: 0449146529

Page Count: 195

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1980

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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