Think of a really, really good John O’Hara novel. Frank has delivered the goods.

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CHEAT AND CHARMER

The years of the Hollywood blacklist, in an ambitious first novel from the Pulitzer-winning critic and biographer (Louise Bogan, 1986).

The story focuses on three major characters. The former Dinah Milligan is an energetic not-quite-beauty who enters the fringes of the movie world working as a dancer, then radio writer. Dinah marries Jake Lasker, a successful screenwriter and director. Then both their lives are changed by contact with Dinah’s younger sister “Veevi” (Genevieve), a legendary screen goddess who—like Dinah herself—had briefly been a Communist Party member during WWII. Now it’s 1951, and Dinah, called to testify before a congressional committee, saves her husband’s career (and their comfortable lifestyle) by “naming names,” including that of Veevi, living in France with her younger second husband. Dinah is selectively snubbed and ostracized, Jake thrives, and Veevi, dumped for a younger beauty, returns to California. Reputedly a hero of the Resistance along with her late first husband, European director Stefan Ventura, Veevi is now “unemployable”—and her rapacious desire to survive is encapsulated in a remark made to the wayward Jake, comparing herself to Dinah: “She wants things. I want things.” Cheat and Charmer is beautifully imagined and plotted, deftly blending tinselly melodrama with astute commentary on politics, sex, and issues of personal ethics and responsibility. It’s filled with sharply etched supporting characters (among them: Goldwyn-like studio mogul Irv Engel and cosmopolitan mother-figure Dorshka Albrecht). But Frank excels most in rich, deep characterizations of her three principals: heartfelt Dinah, ever trying and failing to do what’s right; feline, unstable Veevi; and appetite-driven, faithless Jake, weighted by his own selfish needs (“If he ever had to go without other women, he would die”), a firm believer in his own flickering integrity.

Think of a really, really good John O’Hara novel. Frank has delivered the goods.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-4000-6091-5

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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