SHADOWS AND LIGHT by Francesca Stanfill


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Underneath the sophisticated trappings of this overlong first novel (high-toned backgrounds, literary allusions, multi-lingual chatter, intense sex), you'll find the most familiar basic plot of contemporary gothic-romance--with little more depth than the paperback variety. Allegra Clayton is an orphaned heiress, unconventionally beautiful, a talented painter, a valued employee at Sotheby's; but, while not a virgin, Allegra is sexually innocent and unawakened. Then she meets Argentine-born Alexander Para, playboy banker: ""His eyes were deep-set and of a brilliant dark green, with a certain relentlessness to their gaze."" Soon, of course, Alexander has swept Allegra off her feet into several other positions: ""She gasped and felt him moving inside the innermost valleys of her body, in places she had never known or felt."" She becomes sexually obsessed, not caring about her work, living only for those ""crimson chills of climax."" But. . . is Alexander less than a perfect, loving mate? What about his occasional rudeness and insensitivity? What about his secret meetings with shady characters? What about Allegra's feeling that he doesn't love her as she loves him? Well, as the reader knows, slimy Alexander (egged on by an older mistress/mentor) is at least partly motivated by opportunism--and he's also involved in some sort of financial nastiness. So, after she marries him, Allegra will learn The Truth on their European honeymoon--as Alexander turns into a mean, childish, money-borrowing creep who eventually even rapes her. (""A revelation, like a deathly chill, seized her. What have I done? she kept thinking. Why did I ever marry him?"") Stanfill stretches this old, thin story out to 350 pages with verbose stewings, with lots of dinner-party talk, with nice scenery (St. Moritz, Venice, Greece), and--most gratuitously--with the interspersed journals of Allegra's pal Emily, Vogue writer and would-be novelist. But she never gets persuasively inside any of the characters (including drippy Allegra), making this a long, hollow, predictable re-run of the I-Married-A-Monster chestnut--despite superficial appeal (first serial rights to Cosmopolitan) in the chic accouterments.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster