Picks and Pans Review: Public Affairs Private Relations

updated 01/21/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/21/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Letitia Baldrige

Baldrige, former chief of staff for Jacqueline Kennedy, public relations person and general manners maven, has clearly taken to heart the novelist's maxim, Write about what you know. The heroine of her first novel, Marika Wentworth, is a blue-blooded PR executive—known to all for her impeccable taste, breeding and manners—who just happens to be the best friend and former college roommate of the First Lady. Said First Lady is also a giggling matchmaker who pairs her widowed friend with the dashing, successful entrepreneur Jonathon Scher. This is the center of this maddening, snobbish novel.

Wentworth is a cool Boston-bred WASP. Scher, on the other hand, wears a diamond ring and rents oh-so-vulgar white stretch limos. From the start—despite some supposedly great sex about which Baldrige writes timidly—there are problems. Can bossy Marika stop correcting Jonathon's grammar and social demeanor? Can Jonathon—and his mother, who figures prominently even though Jonathon is in his 40s—get over the fact that Marika is a) a career woman, b) not Jewish and/or c) past childbearing age? What do you think?

Okay, so the plot is contrived and the characters are stereotypes; those traits alone don't automatically make for a bad read. Besides, there are some twists here—notably. Marika's dying father's confession that he is not her biological dad. But Baldrige doesn't know what to do with her book's unique qualities. Marika, told about her real father in an early chapter, barely addresses the issue again until much later.

Even such lapses might be forgivable if Baldrige weren't so condescending. Maybe people in this rarefied world do regularly throw French words into English sentences, but does Baldrige need to define them for us? (The client, she writes, "is not completely dans le sac, or in the bag.") "Madam Letitia Etiquette"—as the author calls herself in an embarrassing inside joke—may now be a novelist, but she's still basically a pedant trying to teach us some manners. (Doubleday, $18.95)

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