Picks and Pans Review: Never Say Goodbye

updated 04/09/1990 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/09/1990 01:00AM

by Gloria Vanderbilt

Heiress, memoirist and doyenne of designer jeans, Vanderbilt has every right to launch into fiction, but readers should be warned that this first novel is an exercise in self-indulgence.

The plot centers on four abraded, braided lives. There is Jessica, who runs the art gallery founded by her late husband and who loves a married man named Mac. Jessica sounds like the Cosmo girl run amok: Mac, she says, "is a TV journalist, a sort of latter-day Ed Murrow, very successful in his work (so am I), and when we are together it's one big long time in bed."

Jess also had been involved with an artist named Grafton, who does things that make her heart "go pitter-pat, pitter-pat." Billie, who has a voice in the story, is Mac's wife, a woman of humble Indiana beginnings.

Then there is Jane, an actress, who became a performer because—clichés of clichés—she didn't get enough attention as a child. She is having an affair with the very active Grafton. "Still," she muses in what, regrettably, is not parody, "it's been ages since I got a good spanking."

Garnet is the fourth member of the quartet, a beautiful woman who, naturally, is also involved with Grafton. Curiously, Garnet bears an uncanny resemblance to Jessica's mother, Dolores, a socialite who disappeared when Jess was a child and turns up in a Russian sanitorium. Unfortunately, selections from Dolores's diaries are scattered generously throughout the book.

There is an effortful quality to Vanderbilt's writing, that of someone trying far too hard for a literary patina. At one point she describes a letter "written in thick black ink like a tarantula'd dunked his feet in his own blood and crawled across the page with thick black legs dripping its thick black blood."

Return to sender. If we cared about Vanderbilt's characters, perhaps the writing would be less of an issue, but they are an unappealing bunch, full of tedious musings. Vanderbilt may comfort herself with the notion that naysayers are simply jealous of her money and position. But sometimes even tall targets richly deserve what's shot at them. (Knopf, $18.95)

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