THE BOOK OF PHOEBE by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith


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At its best this first novel is spirited and amusing in a smart-alecky way, the first person story of a young student at Yale, who discovers she is pregnant and, ditching her ""shit-heel"" lover, goes to Paris for six months to have the baby and find a good home for it. At its worst, it is glib and facilely plotted, sentimental, trading in stereotypes. Phoebe, the heroine, gets in touch with her childhood friend, Marlys, now a star at the Folies Bergere. Marlys is black, and--an example of the book's glibness--consequently has a debt of gratitude to discharge to Phoebe: ""This is your turn to be a pest,"" she says, ""which will never make up for all the times I came up to your room and cried about the torment that goes along with being black and you took all my misery so seriously."" Unfortunately, Marlys turns out to be of minimal help to Phoebe, being surrounded constantly by photographers, magazine writers, and other hangers-on befitting her stardom. Not to mention the fact--an example of the book's tendency toward clich‚--that she is protecting a secret: the naked glamour girl, lusted after by men by the thousands every night, turns out to be in love with her prim secretary Barbara. But Marlys does do her friend the favor of setting her up with a place to live, with one Ben Reuben, an American painter. Needless to say, the inevitable happens, with implausible swiftness, mutuality and totality. Ben and Phoebe are instantly lovers, and she takes him into her confidence about a part of her past that we are to believe has always haunted her, and constituted one of the main reasons why she did not abort the baby she is carrying. We learn about this episode from Phoebe's journal, in which she recounts her single-handed attempt, at age 13, to ""mainstream"" her mentally limited cousin, Tyrus, who had never in thirty-nine years left the attic in which he grew up. Phoebe believes herself to be responsible for his death. . . and believes that the child she is carrying will, in some mystical manner, allow him to be born again. Her guilt is that she lured him from his attic out into the real world, and in a climactic and hard-to-swallow scene, she and Tyrus took over Grant's Tomb, an event televised nationwide. Phoebe demanded to speak with Sargent Shriver and to him she stated the purpose of this media stunt: for Tyrus to go, all expenses paid, to the best mental health facility available. Shriver obliged her. Inevitably, by failing to make us fully believe in the events of her story, the author has also failed to make us care much. Breezy, Salinger-ish (not coincidentally, Phoebe is named for Holden Caufield's sister), and rife with easy sentimentality, this book would probably be most appealing to mid to late teens, if the sex and profanity didn't make that a somewhat dicey proposition.

Pub Date: June 14th, 1985
ISBN: 0595089518
Publisher: Doubleday