Picks and Pans Review: Desire

updated 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Amy Wallace

This first novel has all the elements you'd expect from a book by the daughter of late best-selling pulp novelist Irving (The Fan Club, The Prize) Wallace: money, sex, drugs and intrigue. It also has enough pretentious devices—ancient family letters, "mysterious" (read: poorly defined) characters—to override the ingratiating trash elements and keep the novel from becoming a great read.

Lily van Velsen, a rich, beautiful heiress, is engaged to a proper, rather dull man whom she does not really love. She becomes involved with a ne'er-do-well artist whose artistic talents are far surpassed by his sexual skills. After losing said lover, she descends into the madness and drug abuse that have plagued her family for generations.

A supposed orphan, Lily maintains ties with her elderly great-uncle Mordecai, who gives her an old book of letters to elucidate what he ominously calls the family's "great horror." This horror includes the fact that Mordecai isn't, after all, Lily's great-uncle, he's her...oh, let's not spoil the surprise, even though it should be obvious to any readers who can stay awake past page 30.

As in many such dynastic stories, there is interesting material here. However, since there is not enough sex and/or glamour to offset the obviousness of the plot, Desire is the worst kind of disappointment: a potboiler that never boils. At least you could count on Irving to keep things simmering. (Houghton Mifflin, $19.95)

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