MEMENTO by Michael M. Mooney


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If Suzanne Benson (1930-1976) were non-fictional and famous, this ""biography"" would be at least as compelling as Mooney's saga of Evelyn Nesbit and Stanford White (1976). Suzanne, however, is fictional, a sort of dirty-minded high-society Scarlett O'Hara (""Fiddlesticks!"" she cries), and Mooney's detailed and literate account of her crafty climb lacks the storytelling lure or inner life that compelling fiction requires. Not that the outer life is without interest. Well-born and well-bred, fatherless Suzanne learns about ""perfect love"" (riding crops and such) at private school, joyously loses her virginity at the Plaza, and simultaneously debuts as courtesan and politico by exchanging her services for an $80,000 contribution to the Democratic party (""I've always wanted to play my part in hitstory""). After husband #l's alimony dries up (he dies), Suzanne goes into real estate and the madam biz, converting two Manhattan townhouses into a club-salon-bordello for la cr≤me de la cr≤me, offering tableaux vivants, grande dames as doxies, and all manner of perver-otica (""The longer the entry in Who's Who in America, the more likely the request for the dungeon""). Suzanne thus gains the power to ""wreck marriages, nominate candidates for political office,"" but she and her Count husband overreach, running afoul of the Mob: she is found drowned, along with a Mob hilt-man, at an underwater island temple on her Saratoga estate. My, my. Mooney is to be admired for telling this sort of story without a trace of sensationalism--and for his journalistically effective recreation of such phenomena as banking take-overs, debutante balls, thoroughbred auctions, and shoplifting at Georg Jensen. But there's not a flicker of emotional grab here, just a long, slow, stylish history without real history's resonance.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1979
Publisher: Doubleday