Picks and Pans Review: Singing Songs

updated 06/13/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/13/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Meg Tilly

Compared with young Anna, the narrator of actress Meg Tilly's first novel. Oliver Twist had it easy. Abandoned by their father, Anna and her three siblings are left to the mercy of their mother, a Radcliffe-educated teacher who is as misguided and degenerate as they come.

Mama weds loser Richard Smith, who brings his two girls and one boy to the marriage. And when Richard is unable to find steady work, the family moves through a string of busted-down domiciles, with horror upon horror delivered to the children. They sleep in barns and woodsheds, eat peanut butter and stale doughnuts, do all the household chores and get sexually abused, beaten and/or neglected by every adult who crosses their path.

Written in short, blunt chapters, Singing Songs does capture the sensibility of a small child who refuses to succumb lo her environment. But except for the relationships among the children, which flourish, every grown-up character is too repellent to hold any interest. The odds are hopelessly against Anna and her siblings. The result is a weary and battered reader. (Dutton, $19.95)

OPERATION OVERPRINT

The most readable account of D Day remains Cornelius Ryan's The Longest Day, first published in 1959 and now in paperback. Nevertheless, to prepare for the publishing blitz planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Nazi-held Europe, PEOPLE offers the following survey of battle books.

D Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II (Simon & Schuster, $30), by Eisenhower biographer Stephen E. Ambrose, is on the stiff, academic side and tends to lionize the author's champion. But Ike could stand up to a lot of lionizing and Ambrose is especially strong on the logistically and politically intricate preparations for the invasion on both sides.

Another admirable, though simpler, overview is The Story of D Day by Bruce Bliven Jr. (Random House, $15). An update of a 1956 book for children, it makes up in clarity what it lacks in footnotes, and it includes first-person reminiscences by Bliven, who fought in the invasion.

The new first-person accounts include Eyewitness D Day, (Carroll & Graf, $10.95), edited by Jon E. Lewis. There are quotes from American, British and German veterans, French civilians and such war correspondents as Ernie Pyle, Alan Moorehead and Ernest Hemingway. D Day, 1944: Voices from Normandy (Motorbooks International, $24.95), edited by military historians Robin Neillands and Roderick de Normann, intersperses first-person accounts within a historical narrative that provides helpful context. This book also includes useful battle action maps. Nothing Less Than Victory, the Oral History of D Day, by journalist Russell Miller (Morrow, $27.50), presents an imaginative organization of recollections, with chapters on the intelligence and counterintelligence battle that preceded the invasion and on the impact on English society of the Americans who bivouacked in England while awaiting the invasion.

The Normandy Diary of Marie-Louise Osmont, 1940-1944, translated by George L. Newman (Random House, $17), presents the unique perspective of a wealthy widow in the Norman village of PĂ©riers whose chateau was occupied first by Germans in 1940, then by Britons advancing after D Day. Her diary gives a vivid account of the impact such a global event had on a single individual.

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