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Picks and Pans Review: Crescent City

updated 10/01/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/01/1984 01:00AM

by Belva Plain

In 1835 a rich American returns to a village in Germany to get the son and daughter he left in the Jewish ghetto when his young wife was killed by a blow to the head. After working as a peddler across the U.S., he has become a successful merchant in New Orleans, and now he wants his children. When he brings them back to the antebellum South, his son, David, proves stubbornly opposed to slavery and is sent north to school. The merchant's daughter, Miriam, a beauty, is married at 16 to a man she does not love. This is the South of familiar romantic fiction, though Plain has provided some variation on the theme by making her main characters Jewish. They intermarry with Catholics, and Miriam's Catholic stepmother is a most kindly, jolly fat woman, interested only in the idle pleasures of the wealthy. The slaves are wonderfully loyal and hardworking. When the Civil War comes, the family, of course, is split. Curious anachronisms arise, as when Plain can't resist having her consciousness-raising heroine comment about a spinster relative: "All her life she's been a failure because she wasn't good at the one thing you men expect us to be good at: being ornamental." That kind of comment seems out of sync in this conventional, sentimental, tear-milking novel, which spends pages describing clothing, jewels and frivolous social distractions. Plain, who had a big bestseller with her first novel, Evergreen, has produced a kind of second-rate, kosher Gone With the Wind, with Miriam—instead of Scarlett—standing in the ruins of the South and looking into the future in the company of a one-armed hero and glowing optimism. (Delacorte, $16.95)

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