FOR RICHER, FOR POORER by Edward Stewart


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A long, episodic business/politics family saga, 1922-1984--with roughly equal servings of fresh stuff and the usual soap-melodrama leftovers. The fresher material comes mostly whenever Stewart sticks with the powerhouse matriarch here. She's Kitty Kellogg, scrappy daughter of a Pennsylvania oil-fields worker--but when Kitty's beloved beau, union activist Tyrone Duncannon, dies in a massacre of strikers (just after impregnating Kitty), she vows vengeance on the oil-field-owning Stokes family. In no time, then, Kitty has gotten a laundress job at the Stokes', seducing wild, young Johnny Stokes into marriage (enjoying the sex despite herself). And then, in Stewart's nicest twist, Kitty rapidly becomes not only accepted by the family but its only stable member: artist/lawyer Johnny runs off to prove his independence for a while; mother Stokes goes bonkers (after a fired employee commits suicide); papa Stokes is a broken man. So Kitty--who has given birth to baby Jay, passing him off as Johnny's child--makes herself over (with help from a blueblooded governess), moves the family to Manhattan, buys social acceptance there, and bears second son Bart . . . who'll always be less loved than his Bad Seed of a brother. All this is quite smart and crisp, but as the decades then pass, Stewart's approach becomes more routinely kitchen-sink. Rotten son Jay boozes into marriage to a floozy (she's bought off), winds up wed to bitter Boston brahmin Toni Pierpont, but retains Kitty's devotion. Good son Bart, fed up with Kitty's neglect, breaks from the family and weds a floozy too--but she turns out to be a great wife, while Bart uses his inheritance from Grandpa Stokes to build a somewhat shady bank fortune. And Kitty, now separated from Johnny (who has learned about Jay's real paternity), finally starts realizing her dreams when lawyer Jay, somewhat reborn after being a Korean War prisoner, builds a political career: with help from a slightly Kissinger--like power-broker--despite opposition from Bart and scandalous doings by Toni--Jay becomes governor and then VP to a dying President. (Along with other nastiness, the power-broker has Jay's embarrassing radical son murdered--a fake-suicide.) Finally, however, Jay will meet a swift, Chappaquiddicky end . . . as old Kitty realizes at last that Bart was the good one all along. With firmer pacing and shaping, this could have been a real winner: the rags-to-riches matriarch and the Cain-and-Abel brothers make a potentially powerful triangle. But Stewart--an essentially ironic writer who never seems quite at home when he tries to go popcommercial--throws in too many contrived subplots, saga clichÉs, and dumb cameos (Schweitzer, Cole Porter, LBJ, Evita). And the result is a sporadically clever, occasionally involving sprawl: so-so entertainment for the somewhat more sophisticated contingent of the family-dynasty audience.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 1981
Publisher: Doubleday