THE ONLY PLACE TO BE by Joan Juliet Buck

THE ONLY PLACE TO BE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Until it meanders and becomes blandly predictable in its last 150 pages or so, this long, leisurely first novel offers richly cynical, phenomenally well-detailed amusement--as Buck (a Vogue editor) densely reconstructs the privileged, chic, skewed European childhood, circa 1955-1965, of Iris Bromley. Iris is the generally neglected daughter of petite, red-haired Charlene--a Hungarian-Irish girl from Yorkville who tried Hollywood in the Forties, married and divorced an orange-grove tycoon (Tyler Bromley, nÉ Tevye Bronstein), and flew off to 1950s Paris, Iris in tow, as the mistress of mobster/showman Saul Hyott. Thus, Iris grows up in Paris style--fashion/celebrity Paris rather than artistic Paris. (Charlene thinks Proust is ""a peculiar version of the verb 'to push' ""; furthermore, looking up at Notre Dame's central rosette she says, ""What a scarf that would make."") And Iris' inherited obsession with the Famous and the Fashionable merely increases when Charlene takes up with movie director Raoul Abime (""It's not that I want to cheat on Saul, but I loved his last film""), who marries unlovable Charlene so that his daughter Paula will have a mother and sister. (Paula's mum, a film-star, died by drowning.) So, after some initial bumpiness--Iris insists on calling Raoul ""the porter""--a semi-happy step-family is cemented, with Paula and Iris sharing a fairly blissful adolescence at Raoul's palatial new chateau: costume parties, celebrities. But Raoul's infidelities proliferate, Paris becomes frightening during the Algeria period, Charlene (now CharlÉ) and the girls transplant to London. And, worst of all, Iris grows up with ""personality"" (""bushy eyebrows, fat thighs, and an uneven and resentful temperament"") while her sibling is ""a natural."" During the Sixties, then, teenage model/actress Paula will quickly dispense with her virginity, soon becoming ""the living symbol of Swinging London"". . . as an increasingly isolated Iris (""it's time you and I saw less of each other,"" says CharlÉ) briefly attends college in N.Y. before finding her niche in--what else?--celebrity journalism. At this point, unfortunately, despite some sharp magazine/party-scene satire, the novel becomes far less special and particular: Iris does the usual Ugly Duckling transformation, sleeps with a movie star (who'll eventually marry unwed-mother Paula), and finally gives up ""the nagging wordliness of images."" And, throughout, Buck's enormously stylish, smartly cadenced phrasing slips now and then into the merely arch or bitchy. Still, even if overlong and never really affecting: an absorbing, classy close-up of the Paris Match world--where, in Buck's wry version, every sleek Prince Charming is likely to have halitosis.

Pub Date: June 2nd, 1982
Publisher: Random House