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Heller’s first is a smart take on hoary subjects—Jewish deracination, the moral vileness of Hollywood—that nevertheless offers real pleasures and marks the writer as one to watch. Willy Muller has a lot on his plate, but all of it is bitter food. He was a journalist on British television until something ghastly happened back in 1971: his alcoholic and fiercely unhappy wife, in a drunken argument, slipped, hit her head on the fridge, and died. Thus Willy was not only left with his two young daughters, Sophie and Sadie, but his TV career ended fast when the tabloids exploited him as a wife murderer who got off easy. Things were made no better—except financially—when Willy published a hugely successful memoir (To Have and to Hold) revealing everything about his marriage but exonerating himself. Was it honest? Well, ten years later Sophie’s confusion, doubt, and rage about her father have driven her to sex, drugs, and a miserably shabby marriage, while the younger Sadie, though not married, has had a baby of her own—and has just committed suicide. Imagine the torment Willy goes through (he now lives in L.A.) as he reads through Sadie’s journals, wrestles with his guilt, and tries to make a grotesquely distorted screenplay of To Have and to Hold for the sleazy movie moguls who see a sure killing in it. Toss in a heart attack, an attempt to quit smoking, plenty of troubles on the sexual front, and a trip to Mexico to —write— that brings Willy face to face with the rich, glib, hyper-Teutonic Hans Stempel, director-to-be of the new movie—and one of the catalysts that suddenly turns the half-Jewish Willy completely around and sends him back to England to try—one way or another—to do things over again. Willy’s caustic, witty voice (cockroaches walk around —like ambulatory patent leather handbags—) keeps his mournful tale sturdily on course and safely protected from the maudlin.

Pub Date: Jan. 6th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-40724-3
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1999


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