Picks and Pans Review: Dance with the Devil

updated 07/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Kirk Douglas

Douglas's 1988 autobiography, The Ragman's Son, praised for its frankness, indeed revealed more than any of us wanted to know about an actor who has taken his press clips to heart. Now Kirk has written his first novel, a surprisingly readable potboiler about a Hollywood figure nearly as self-absorbed as himself.

Danny Dennison, a movie director who gained success by tarting up Shakespearean plots, finds his psychological armor cracking at mid-life. For Danny, this is major bad news, since he has been shielding deep wounds. Dragged into a concentration camp as a child, he was the only member of his family to survive, and now he denies he is a Jew. As a teen he was seduced by his adoptive mother. His only marriage, to a disturbed debutante, produced one child—who has been stolen away by his billionaire father-in-law. What's more, he's about to embark on his dream project—a Wall Street version of the pre-1500 morality play Everyman, which is an even worse idea than it sounds.

Enter Luba—a young Polish refugee who has spent most of her uncharmed life as a prostitute, often in tandem with her mother, Magda. In bed with Luba, Danny's defenses start to fall...and Douglas's libido starts to build.

The story moves energetically and with some skill, except for the sounds of Kirk salivating. Douglas, at 73, relishes a smarmy sex scene, and there are plenty of them here, some trite (Luba and the delivery boy), some sadistic (Magda and her brutal British husband), some Kirk perceives as tender (let's not get into details). But Luba was also a sexually abused child, and scenes of early molestation are written with equally distasteful gusto.

The Ragman's Son left no doubt about Douglas's opinion of women. Imagine that mind bent on sexual fantasy and you have an idea how low this novel can sink. Anyone willing to put up with that obsession, however, should find this novel a down and dirty divertissement. (Random House, $19.95)

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