When movie producer Julia Phillips titled her juicy first book You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, she didn't expect to be taken literally. Still, her bestselling Hollywood tell-all got her barred from Morton's, an L.A. hot spot frequented by the industry bigwigs she recklessly trashed. Her flagrant breach of Hollywood protocol—you can use drugs, be shallow and backstab, just don't write about it—turned Phillips into an instant pariah, a status she gleefully exploits in this follow-up, billed as a further attack on "the undying enmity of a humorless, unforgiving Male Hollywood Establishment." Despite Phillips' acrimony, the only venues likely to bar her as a result of this sequel are bookstores.
Fancying herself a wizened observer of the Zeitgeist, Phillips, who won an Academy Award in 1973 for co-producing The Sting, compares her personal chaos (back surgery, a drunk-driving arrest, tax problems) to the fires, riots and earthquakes ravaging L.A. It's a risky conceit that reaches a peak of self-indulgence when Phillips, 51, likens her figurative pummeling at the hands of Hollywood's power brokers to the beating endured by Rodney King ("The more I watch Rodney the more I am Rodney").
She might have pulled it off had she been blessed with Joan Didion's eye or Carrie Fisher's wit, but this book's title is as clever as it gets. And except for a delicious feud with David Geffen (who recently called her "an angry, nasty, vaguely deranged woman"), she has no real target for the comic bile that made her first book so entertaining. Minus the drugs and the dish on famous people, Julia Phillips is just an ordinary, middle-aged malcontent. (HarperCollins, $24)
by J.P. Smith
Swiss-born psychiatrist Peter Freytag, whose life seemed as precise as a Rolex, has been found with his throat slashed in a seedy downtown hotel. Now, his wife of 13 years, Jill Bowman, must cope not only with his death but with the indignities of a homicide investigation.
Like a stone dropped into a still pond, Peter's slaying sends ripples into every recess of Jill's life. As Det. David Resnick persistently grills her about the couple's years together, Jill, herself a historian, begins to reexamine their marriage.
Were they as happy as she believed? Was there someone else? And what could Peter have been doing at that flophouse? Brightly colored shards of memory shift kaleidoscopically as she starts to obsess about the past—and finds herself unexpectedly drawn to the sensitive, married detective.
Though Breathless, the fifth novel from the Massachusetts-based Smith, is a bona fide mystery, its thoughtful prose reads like one of Anita Brookner's introspective explorations. These are sentences you reread to savor even as you race eagerly after Jill to plumb that place she describes as "between silence and word...the beguiling landscape of memory." (Viking, $23.95)
WOODY ALLEN AT WORK: THE PHOTOGRAPHS OF BRIAN HAMILL
Woody Allen has never let his shyness turn him into a recluse. Even before the Soon-Yi affair ripped the roof off his private life, a sheepish Allen could be glimpsed sitting courtside at Knicks games or playing the clarinet at Michael's Pub or strolling up Fifth Avenue crouched under that floppy hat. His tightly sealed movie sets, though, have always been sanctuaries from the curious glare of his fans, a loyal bunch that may be interested in this elegant collection of 200 behind-the-scenes photos of Allen in his element, snapped by unit still-photographer Hamill, who has worked on all of the director's movies since Annie Hall in 1977.
An introductory essay by University of Southern California film professor Charles Champlin spells out the big revelation of these mostly black-and-white photos spanning 21 films: that Allen the director is not the "voluble neurotic of his stand-up comedy persona" but rather "a confident perfectionist running his show with a firm hand, sympathetic but aloof."
Aloofness, unfortunately, does not make for arresting pictures. The onset Allen isn't very expressive; he seems capable of deflecting scrutiny by turning his face into a blank mask. With few exceptions (like a warm shot of Woody and daughter Dylan), we aren't treated to any fresh perspectives of this complex, driven man. Watching him act in his movies is still the best way to glimpse the real Woody Allen. (Abrams, $39.95)
edited by Penny Kaganoff and Susan Spano
Divorcées will probably pick up this book seeking the comfort of others who have made this miserable and increasingly common American rite of passage. They will have notable company reading essays by 14 women writers including Ellen Gilchrist, Anne Roiphe and Perri Klass that offer a smorgasbord of marriages torn asunder. There are unions undone by a cheating husband or a wife's foolish naïveté, ex-spouses who remain the best of friends or enemies whose anger is on perpetual simmer.
Time has brought many of these women an understanding of their folly in choosing a spouse who resembled a parent, marrying to meet the expectations of others. But not all their wounds have healed; there's still that nagging feeling of failure, the mental self-flagellation for saying "I do" even when a relationship—at least in hindsight—was so troubled. Still, these women have no regrets about their break-ups; divorce "is a very good idea," writes Gilchrist, summing up a universal sentiment. "It's certainly better than a loveless or ill-suited or painful marriage."
The book has its dubious insights, overwrought metaphors and failed attempts at irony and humor, and one soon tires of listening to only half the story (a men's volume is in the works). Still, there's a collective wisdom in its rueful aftertaste which is both bitter and good. Daphne Merkin is right when she notes-that any marriage can last—depending on "how tolerable the partners find it to be." But damned if these writers can say just what makes for the real thing. Mary Morris will stand by her man "because the mystery of love remains a mystery," she writes, "and when he lies down beside me, I know I can sleep." (Harcourt Brace, $22)
by Robert Harris
Robert Harris is the Fred Astaire of the thriller. His highly praised Fatherland (1992) glided effortlessly across the wide stage of World War II, forsaking the cliff-hanging drumrolls of a Ludlum for more cerebral melodies.
This time, the former BBC correspondent improves his routine with even more graceful choreography. His historical provenance is one of the greatest secrets of the war: Britain's successful cracking of the Nazi communications code called Enigma.
The pressure is intense. If the exhausted band of linguists, idiots savants and secret agents deciphering messages around the clock near London gets stumped, troops and supply convoys could be imperiled. Neither the Allies nor the enemy must know that the impossibly complex code can be read. But when the Germans abruptly change Enigma in 1943, burned-out mathematician Tom Jericho is recalled to find the leak and decipher the new code.
Elegantly researched, Enigma evokes a depleted and exhausted wartime England with perfect pitch. "The nation," writes Harris, "was a little bit knocked about, like...a genteel elderly lady fallen on hard times." Though readers never get near the front lines, they will find themselves perfectly placed to experience one of Britain's finest hours. (Random House, $23)
by Dick Francis
Page Turner of Week
AFTER A STRING OF SO-SO OUTINGS that had some readers wondering if he were becoming an also-ran, the master of equine thrills once again clears the jumps with panache. The author's gallop to the winner's circle with this, his 34th mystery, is aided by the return of his pluckiest protagonist, steeplechase jockey-turned-gumshoe Sid Halley. In Whip Hand, published in 1979, Halley's left hand was hacked off by a murderous fiend. This time, in a densely textured and perfectly plotted story, Sid must stop a maniac who maims race horses by cutting off their feet. When Halley fingers his old friend, the popular TV personality Ellis Quint, he comes under attack by the tabloid press as well as an outraged public. In the process of saving his reputation—and the best of British horseflesh—Halley nearly loses his life. The race down Grief's homestretch will have readers standing in their stirrups. (Putnam, $23.95)
>WITH THE SAME IMPECCABLE TIMING that made them the smoothest TV twosome since Huntley and Brinkley, both Canadian-born Robert MacNeil, 64, and Kansas-native Jim Lehrer, 61, have written new novels. Stalwarts of serious journalism for 20 years on PBS's MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, the duo have more than proved their mettle as unblinking newshounds, but what of those creative fires burning beneath their starchy white shirts?
As novelists, the boys fall somewhere between John LeCarré and Newt Gingrich. MacNeil's surprisingly tender, if sometimes mawkish, The Voyage (Doubleday, $23.95) gives us the middle-aged but still dashing David Lyon, a career Canadian diplomat caught up in the disappearance of an old flame. A restrained, mature love story set in exotic locales like Helsinki and London, it's sort of a Bridges of Madison County for bureaucrats. MacNeil, who's retiring this month to write full-time, spares us the sappy ending: He's a newsman fully versed in life's maddening loose ends.
Lehrer, in his ninth novel, aims not for the heart but for the head. Loaded with thinly veiled Beltway players, The Last Debate (Random House, $23) tells of a jingoistic presidential candidate and the four rogue journalists who undermine him by rigging a live TV debate. Lehrer, who moderated a Clinton-Bush-Perot debate in 1992, knows that nothing is funnier than real-life politics, and he wisely keeps his satire close to the bone.
LIKE EASY RAWLINS, HIS WARY PRIVATE eye—currently being played to a fine turn by Denzel Washington
in Devil in a Blue Dress—Walter Mosley, 43, is an affable and soft-spoken man.
In his newest work, R.L.'s Dream (Norton, $22), the author of four earlier Rawlins capers—whose fans include Bill Clinton—takes a detour from South Central L.A., the site of his period crime thrillers, and moves to different turf with what he calls a blues novel.
"I could keep on writing the Easy books and make each one better," says Mosley, who made a living as a painter and potter before he became a writer, "but I'm also trying to widen my palette by saying different things."
Set in 1980s Manhattan, the story pairs Soupspoon Wise, an aging, black, Mississippi Delta guitarman who is dying of cancer, with Kiki, a young, white, streetsmart Arkansas woman hardened by past abuses. "Soupspoon is a wholly original character for me," says Mosley, whose father, Leroy, was a custodian at the Los Angeles Board of Education and also died of cancer. "I wanted to let people know from a black man's point of view what the blues was and still is."
Not that Mosley is in the mood to sing them these days. The writer, who is separated and lives in an apartment in Greenwich Village, says there haven't been too many changes in his life since making his name in the book biz. Mosley remains modest about the raves he has received. "I don't pay much attention to it," he says. "I like going to Hollywood and hanging out with movie stars and directors, but fame is not the center of my life."
- Alex Tresniowski,
- Pam Lambert,
- Paula Chin,
- J.D. Reed,
- V.R. Peterson.