In Dewberry’s fourth novel (Sacrament of Lies, 2001, etc.), a woman staying at the Ritz in Paris the night that Princess Diana dies finds herself re-examining her own identity as the trophy wife of a powerful man.
Ellen, a tall, blond beauty without a career of her own, has accompanied her Nobel Prize–winning physicist husband Lawrence to a conference in Paris. The day before Diana’s death, Ellen is briefly mistaken for the princess while getting out of a limo, then crosses paths with her in the hotel’s beauty parlor (the one scene in this oh-so-seriously interior monologue when Dewberry shows a witty light touch) and in the restaurant. With Lawrence busy giving speeches and delving into issues of string theory with his colleagues, including a German woman whose caustic self-assurance underlines Ellen’s intellectual insecurity, Ellen has way too much time on her hands. Out jogging because she can’t sleep, she comes upon the accident scene where she meets a mysterious American photographer named Max, who had taken her picture in front of the hotel that afternoon. Increasingly neglected by Lawrence, who understandably finds her a tad trivial, Ellen obsesses about the death, especially after Diana begins to talk to her. Ellen is soon agonizing over the handsome Max too and tracks him down. He’s fighting his own demons as a guilty member of the paparazzi. There’s the requisite single moment of passionate, deeply meaningful lovemaking before he motorcycles away into the mist. Diana’s soul travels on too, but not before Ellen recognizes the parallels in their lives: unsympathetic mothers, husbands with little time for their emotional needs, their own yearnings for love. The mundane human moments, as when Ellen realizes with embarrassment that she’s walking in the wrong direction, are far more resonant than her ponderous soul-searching.
A clever premise, but Dewberry takes Ellen (and Diana) far more seriously than most readers will.