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You've seen the musical. You've watched the TV-movie. You've read the biographies. So now here's the novel: a fictionalized life of Eva Peron (Gould calls her Rosa Montero) which--despite vigorous narrative technique and evocative detailing--sticks too close to familiar history to succeed as a work of the imagination. True, the first few pages are simply splendid, with a larger-than-life, dreamlike quality: years after Rosa's death, exiled Montero (Peron) and new wife Maria Blanca (history's Mafia Estela, a.k.a. Isabelita) are preparing to return to power. . . complete with Rosa's perfectly embalmed, beautifully coffined corpse. And as Gould then flashes back to tell Rosa's story, she tries to preserve this mythic mood--with musical prose, with imaginary place-and-time (Argentina is ""Pradera,"" no dates are given), with selective vignettes that compress events. But, while many individual scenes are zestfully, ironically rendered, the narrative is essentially fact-bound (Gould's inventiveness is mostly limited to sexual specifics); and the quasi-feminist angle, though plausible in part, is a crude one that's fast becoming a biographical clichÉ: Eva/Rosa as victim-of-men. Illegitimate, raped (from age eight) by her father, her priest, and her mother's boarders, Rosa turns to movie-star fantasies and vows that ""Nothing will touch me."" She runs off to the capital with a tango singer; she uses her teenage charms (bisexually) to rise in films and radio; she learns how to exploit her charisma--which, together with her expertise at fellatio, makes her the favorite of Pradera's Colonels. . . especially Minister of Labor Carlos Montero. And, thanks to her high-placed sexual conquests, broadcaster Rosa--now idol of the poor--makes pedophilic Montero a hero, saves his career (after an embezzlement scandal) with demonstracions, helps him become VP, then President. But, despite legal wedlock, Senora Montero is scorned by society (snubbed by a ladies' group, she starts her own Foundation); she is never really trusted by Montero (the ""devil is a woman"" syndrome); when she tries to run for VP, he blocks her. . . and perhaps even accelerates her death. (Eva had cancer of the uterus; Rosa's more complex disease is the direct result of a violent childhood rape.) And, ironically, it is Maria/Isabelita who--briefly, after Montero's death--will become La Presidenta. Gould works expertly at creating an erotic, hothouse atmosphere (though her interpolation of Spanish often seems like a silly crash-course at Berlitz). And the Evita boom will certainly add to this novel's allure. But finally it's caught in that fact/fiction limbo--with neither the illuminating power of good history nor the surprise and magic of great storytelling.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Linden/Simon & Schuster