PIRATE JENNY by April Bernard


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Poet and screenwriter Bernard's first novel--an odd, strangely moving tale of an old-fashioned adventuress, a teen-age con-artist inspired by the heroines of German expressionistic cinema and by Lotte Lenya's famous role in The Threepenny Opera. What makes this scenario rather improbable is that 17-year-old Connie Frances LaPlante is an otherwise typical teen from a dying New England mill-town where the kids hang out, drink beer, and smoke dope. Connie, the confused daughter of parents who enjoy a relation of ""disorganized noncohabitation,"" works as a carhop, worries about boys, and dreams of a luxurious life. Everything changes when Connie stumbles upon a recording in German of the Brecht-Weill musical. She soon renames herself Jenny, steals more German albums from the library, and begins planning her escape from her dreary past. Destroying all records of her ever having existed, Jenny fakes a German accent and heads for N.Y.C., where she works as an illegal alien in a midtown hotel. Eventually she lands a job as an au pair for the grandchildren of White Russians who live on the Upper East Side. Netta and Nikki Kovalenko adopt the clever girl, instructing her in their Old World ways. A compulsive liar and shoplifter, Jenny is also a quick study--perhaps too quick to be believed. Within a year, she's moving among wealthy New Yorkers with all the aplomb of one to the manner born. When the Kovalenkos' older granddaughter threatens to reveal Jenny's true identity, she plots her next move, and ends up in a marriage of convenience to a wealthy pederast who promises to honeymoon in Germany. There, she abandons her mean spouse--and disappears into ""the bosom of her homeland."" Bernard clearly intends for readers to admire Jenny's courage and resourcefulness; she is, after all, an unusual mix of innocence and dishonesty. But the transformation at the center of this breezy novel remains far-fetched--and a serious flaw to an otherwise enjoyable debut.

Pub Date: June 11th, 1990
Publisher: Norton