THE LeBARON SECRET by Stephen Birmingham
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A reprise of the popular The Auerbach Will (1983): a super-rich elderly matriarch of immigrant-waif-to-top-enchilada background; a grumble of descendants, one of whom spearheads a drive to unseat Mother from her eminence; and, of course, a secret, which in this case can be spotted early on. Assaria ""Sari"" Latham LeBaron, 74, millionaire head of Baronet Vineyards and subsidiaries, presides over her autocracy in her San Francisco ""White Wedding Cake"" mansion. Sari is forced to deal with a takeover bid by Harry Tillinghast, oil baron and father-in-law of son Eric, who resents Sari's heavy hand and is champing at the bit to head Baronet himself. The antagonists begin counting shares and shareholders: Peter, Jr., Eric's twin who has charm but little drive; Melissa, who claims Mother Sari has turned her into ""a lonely, neutered, neurotic spinster""; Joanna (sister of Sari's late husband Peter) who's a top Manhattan ad exec; and her son Lance. Meanwhile, in flashbacks, there's the story of Jewish Sari, an orphan who traveled alone to the US at age eight, in 1917; her adoring relationship to Gabe Pollock, a distant relative and early guardian (Gabe is now owner of a S.F. newspaper); and her first meeting with flamboyant flapper Joanna and handsome brother Peter, gilded heirs of the LeBaron wine business. Questions about SaWs life with Peter continue to steam up until voting time. Why was marriage to Peter hurtful and frustrating after a point? Was his death a suicide? Was SaWs crippling (under a tree Peter was felling) an accident? And why does Melissa demand to know: ""Who was my mother?"" At the close, Sari looks forward to reconciliations and begs Gabe to write up the family story as ""a love story about three women in love. . ."" Although this lacks the special sparkle of the opluently living Manhattan Auerbachs, still Birmingham has a faithful following--and that's no secret.

Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 1985
Publisher: Little, Brown