An adolescent is obsessed with a mysterious, glamorous young woman in 1950s Manhattan.
Having been kicked out of prep school for smoking a cigar in the chapel, recently orphaned Gabriel Gibbs ends up living with his older brother Spencer in an apartment in Greenwich Village, where Spencer, ten years Gabriel’s senior, is completing a book of short stories. Gabriel idolizes Spencer and so does the author. He is a character without faults: generous, wise, handsome, and brilliant. While Spencer spends his days writing, Gabriel wanders the city. Along the way he hears about, then briefly sees, the beautiful Lillian Dawes. Her picture appears on the society pages with increasing frequency, Gabriel catches her dancing in the kitchen of a Cuban restaurant, and his aunt Lavinia mentions having befriended her on the SS Rotterdam, where Lillian showed extraordinary shooting skills. Lillian has no money but floats within the upper-class WASP world with ease. After Spencer’s nouveau riche friend/nemesis Clayton Prather tells Gabriel he has “plans” for Dawes, Gabriel wrangles an invitation to a weekend at Prather’s country place. There, Spencer and Lillian meet while Lillian displays her many talents and superior soul, equal only to Spencer’s own. Finally the plot, which for more than two thirds of the story has meandered along with Gabriel, rushes through Spencer and Lillian’s romance and its (obvious) connection to Spencer’s search for the lost heir to a fortune his father embezzled years earlier. While second-novelist Mosby (Private Altars, 1995) writes with a formal grace that only sometimes verges on the pretentious (references to The Great Gatsby don’t help), her characters seem to have been borrowed from the movies—eccentric aunt, Asian houseboy, communist moocher friend (not to mention Lillian herself)—and in spite of all the period detail carefully layered in, the tale has an artificial, unlived quality.
Pretty sentences deliver a flimsy storyline and unbelievable characters.