THE RAINBOW BOX by Barbara Turner Sachs


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Very dimly one can see what first-novelist Sachs is trying to bring off here--but her rackety, addled mÉlange (Ragtime style, musical-comedy tone, racial-prejudice satire) falls apart at the starting gate. It's 1920 and Edward ""Wyck"" Hanover, 18, is the missing link in a ruling New York family ""that planted their family tree in Europe"" generations ago. Wyck is weak-eyed, slow, stammering, and insecure. But he's loved by little Mary James--who's ""olive-skinned, with a slim, rippling body, restless hands, long liquid legs, and half-undressed feet."" She loves. He loves. They learn to make love in a secret hotel hideaway. And though the mighty Hanovers would never agree to a daughter-in-law who's a nobody from Pelham, the lovers marry anyway. . . and then the horrid truth is revealed. Mary--and this is news to her--is one-eighth Negro! Enter hordes of journalists, flashbulbs, and the Klan. Mary stands firm: ""Nobody, not all those straight-minded, gray-faced, blue-nosed, blue butts can stop us now!"" Ah, but they can. Muddled Wyck is kidnapped. There's a sensational trial: Is Mary guilty of fraud, ""passing"" to get at Hanover money? Love letters--hot stuff--are read, with women barred from the courtroom; at one point Mary appears starkers before a jury for an exotic kind of evidence. Wyck withers--while Mary does a number in Harlem to tell the old time throng: I'm ""just plain old Mary. . . famous because one big galoot went and took a whole lot of love away. . . ."" And after the verdict there'll be a triumphant cakewalk, with Mary lifted aloft by Red Caps. Occasionally Sachs does hook onto some fresh movement in her honky-tonky overkill--but this ambitious attempt to sing-song a time and its mores is an out-of-tune experiment overall, lacking the necessary skill and subtlety.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1984
Publisher: Congdon & Weed--dist. by St. Martins