THE KEY TO SUSANNA

A skillful Danielle Steel clone, filled with tragedy, crabmeat omelets, and momentous nights at the London Ritz. Pulp vet Norman (Laura, 1994, etc.) shamelessly out-Steels her apparent role model with time-tested Steel trademarks—a story about a beautiful girl who's been abused early and often; a scene of Grand Guignol childbirth; and an improbable plot carried along by so many conjunctions that the reader has no time for fruitless analysis. All the analysis here belongs to psychotherapist-hero Peter Strauss, who's searching for the key to Susanna Van Dusen, a supermodel he meets at the hospital bedside of her husband Hawke, a world-famous British photographer dying of AIDS. (He's not gay, he's just had a male lover.) After Hawke's death, Pete becomes her therapist, and as he listens to the bruising (if incredible) story of her life, he finds himself falling in love with her. The story: At 13, Susanna is kidnapped by Matthew, a handyman at the convent where she lives, is raped, and then held captive in his tar-paper shack on Cape Cod. After she gives birth, without assistance, Matthew takes the adolescent Susanna and baby Abigail to live with the Van Dusens, a wonderful family near Boston. A terrified Susanna passes the baby off as her sister. Matthew flees when he is discovered trying to molest the family's daughter, and the Van Dusens become Susanna's and Abigail's foster parents. When Susanna finally tells Abigail the whole truth about her past, Abigail goes off to investigate and is kidnapped by her father and taken to the same tar-paper shack. Matthew is killed when a twister conveniently shatters the building. But wait: Before Pete and Susanna can sever their therapeutic relationship and become lovers, Susanna has yet has another horrible story to tell (this one about her crazed mother). A page-turner—and a preposterous jaw-dropper.

Pub Date: May 20, 1996

ISBN: 0-525-94042-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1996

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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