THE PORT OF MISSING MEN by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith


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Smith comes up with a splashy premise in this story of a 15-year-old girl who wins two gold medals for diving in the 1936 Berlin Olympics--but it's sunk by the same combination of arch prose and contrived plot that afflicted her two earlier novels, The Book of Phoebe (1985) and Lament for a Silver-Eyed Woman (1987). When fatherless Lily Neelan and her beautiful prostitute mother Gertie sail home on the Normandie following Lily's triumph at the Olympics, they meet handsome and fabulously wealthy Albert Rexhault. In short order, Gertie becomes his mistress, and it seems that happy days are on the horizon as he takes mother and daughter off to live in a tropical paradise. But Lily is restless to know more about her past, and Rexhault, fatherless himself, agrees to help her. Together, they uncover family secrets, including evidence that they may be--gasp!--long-lost cousins. This is only one of an assortment of clunky plot devices that turns Lily's coming-of-age story into near-burlesque. There are cameo appearances by Ernest Hemingway and Frank Sinatra. There is the 100-year-old talking parrot who gives clues to the mysteries of the past. And, finally, there is Lily's uncanny knack for being on the scene at world events. She sticks up for Jesse Owens and Archie Williams at an Olympics victory party hosted by Goebbels. And when the flaming Normandie sinks in New York harbor, Lily is right there, watching from the dock. Still, in spite of all this, and despite her overly ingenuous chitchat--at age 19, she still refers to genitals as "weenies"--Lily is plucky and eccentric enough to be a likable heroine. It's never hard to believe she's a champion diver. It's just that the rest of her story is a belly-whopper.

Pub Date: May 31st, 1989
ISBN: 688-08441-9
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
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