by Richard Bernstein

by Brad Benedict

"Richard Bernstein portrays stars," writes Paloma Picasso in her introduction to Megastar. "He celebrates their faces, he gives them larger than Fiction size. He puts wit into the beauties, fantasy into the rich, depth into the glamorous and adds instant patina to newcomers." Bernstein's giant faces on the covers of Andy Warhol's Interview magazine look like photographs that have been colored with an airbrush and touched up to give the images glittering highlights. While surreal, they are instantly recognizable as Jacqueline Onassis or Grace Jones, Bette Midler or Ali MacGraw. Lily Tomlin on the telephone is as pretty as a model and yet she still looks like Lily Tomlin—that's the celebrityism art form that Bernstein practices. Like Interview, this volume (Indigo Books, $14.95) is 11 by 14 inches so that the famous heads loom as big as life. Benedict, founder of a greeting card company, has assembled a collection that includes airbrushed glamour portraits of stars. But he also admires and includes caricatures, cartoons and everything else happening in illustration. There are several portraits of Ronald Reagan: Ed Wexler turns Reagan into the screaming face in a famous Edvard Munch painting; Ben Osto sees the President as crumbling cubes and planes; Robert Kopecky gives his portrait the white, blank eyes of Daddy Warbucks. Many of the works reproduced in this lavish paperback (Indigo, $14.95) can be dismissed as trendy copies of better artists' work. Still, the vitality and ingenuity are, in this context, impressive.

by Mary Higgins Clark

This new neogothic suspense novel by the author of Where Are the Children? and A Cry in the Night is as confused in its plotting as are all of Clark's books, though that never stops them from becoming best-sellers. Her heroine is a TV news interviewer who takes a job in Washington, D.C. Ignoring a spooky voice that warns her not to do it, she moves into an old house in Georgetown, where a murder and suicide took place 20 years earlier. While dealing with that domestic problem, she plans her first program, about a woman senator who may be the next Vice-President of the U.S. It's typical of the book's unconvincing plot that the senator has complete approval over everything that goes into the television show about her—Mike Wallace or Barbara Walters would laugh at such an arrangement. Clark is also the kind of writer who, when a minor character is violently murdered, comments, "Now that attractive, vibrant woman was dead." Now this negative, unhappy review is over. (Simon and Schuster, $14.95)

by George Burns

"Look, when I worked with Gracie, I was retired. I did nothing. We walked on the stage and I said, 'Gracie, how's your brother?' and she talked for 38 years." This is the comedian's fifth book and, like his others, it is made up of recycled stand-up routines. They are still funny. He writes about how, at 79, he became a dramatic actor: "If the director wants me to cry, I think of my sex life. If he wants me to laugh, I think of my sex life. And if he wants me to laugh and cry at the same time, I look in the mirror. Olivier has his system, I have mine." The beginning of each chapter suggests that Burns is going to get down to the happiness formula promised in his title, but then digressions are, in his case, to be expected. Also looked forward to. (Putnam, $11.95)

by Lisa Alther

As absorbing and touching as it often is, this novel is so overlong and sloppy that it's tempting to reverse the Queen's admonition to Polonius in Hamlet and say, less matter with more art, please. Alther, author of Kinflicks and Original Sins, has created two humane, likable characters. Caroline, an emergency-room nurse in a small New Hampshire town, is 35, divorced, mother of two young sons, a lesbian and suicidal. Hannah, a psychotherapist in her 50s, lost two of her children in an accident but has brought that memory under control and established her life and career. Caroline goes into therapy with Hannah, and most of the novel's 336 pages are devoted to their sharp, funny, dynamic exchanges. Alther's writing can be captivating. At one point Caroline, worried that she'll lose Hannah's concern, muses, "Probably Hannah was like the plumber, and would stick around only until the drains cleared." And, "She was tired of living hand-to-mouth sexually, never knowing where her next feel was coming from." There are a lot of unhappy distractions, though. One is Alther's female chauvinism. The male characters in the book are written off; only Hannah's husband is something other than a wimp or super-macho type, and he's elderly and harmless. More annoying is the bad editing. Idle repetitions are frequent; among other things, Alther uses the analyst-plumber allusion twice, somebody has a dream every three pages or so, and twice in two pages she describes the same character as having "sad, dark eyes." Her writing can be sophomoric: "Caroline sorted through the canceled checks in her memory bank." In quantity, such gaffes become mood-shattering. If a writer's use of language isn't to be trusted, what of her ideas? (Knopf, $15.95)

  • Contributors:
  • Campbell Geeslin,
  • Ralph Novak.