Picks and Pans Review: The Two Mrs. Grenvilles

UPDATED 07/29/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/29/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Dominick Dunne

The narrator of this dreadful novel is a Truman Capote-like writer who just can't help it if all the world's rich and famous people want to confess everything to him—even bigamy and murder. The characters have names such as Esme, Neddie, Jellico (Bratsie), Brenda, Kay Kay, Babette and Chet and they are all detestable. The central character calls herself Ann Arden. She is a talentless show girl who reels in a prosperous young man named Billy Grenville and marries him. They have two children before Billy is shot by his wife in his bedroom—did she do it because she thought he was a prowler or because he had discovered a secret in her past and planned to divorce her? They're both so awful, who cares? Dunne's first novel, The Winners, was another lousy book, about the sordid side of Hollywood. Wading through this new novel is like reading scores of gossip columns about the world's most superficial people. When Capote wrote about characters like these, he did it with imagination and wit—qualities that are singularly lacking in The Two Mrs. Greenvilles. Rumor has it that Dunne borrowed his plot from an actual society shooting in the 1950s, and that some readers will recognize the real characters who are alleged to have done all these awful things to each other. It's books like this, which could never stand on their own, that give romans à clef a bad name. (Crown, $14.95)

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