SKY.Ivan Doig.Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.314...

THIS HOUSE OF

December 20, 1992|By EILEEN POWER DOIN' THE BOX STEP. | EILEEN POWER DOIN' THE BOX STEP.,LOS ANGELES TIMES SEVEN FOR A SECRET.

THIS HOUSE OF SKY.

Ivan Doig.

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

314 pages. $24.95.

Only when a way of life is vanishing does it begin to seem worth writing about. Ivan Doig grew up on Montana ranches, but he had to go away to college -- become an outsider -- to recognize that life as a literary subject, and by then the real insiders were almost gone.

His father, Charlie, dying of emphysema, gasped out stories into a tape recorder; his maternal grandmother, Bessie Ringer, added others; Mr. Doig filled in the gaps by ransacking his own memories and those of decrepit ex-cowboys and saloon keepers.

The result was "This House of Sky," the memoir whose appearance 15 years ago established Mr. Doig as one of the leading "sagebrush writers" -- modern folks who write about the rural West without necessarily writing Westerns. Since then, he has become known for novels ("Dancing at the Rascal Fair," "Ride With Me, Mariah Montana"), but "Sky" has quietly retained its appeal. Hence this anniversary edition.

In retrospect, "Sky" seems an unlikely debut -- a long book that shies away from most of the commercial kinds of excitement. What distinguishes it, besides a wealth of detail, is a lyrical style muscled with active verbs ("A bow of meadow makes the riffled water curl wide to the west. . . . A low rumple of the mountain knolls itself up watchfully") and what reveals itself to be a story of uncommon devotion. Victoria Holt.

Doubleday.

326 pages. $16.

After her mother suffers a stroke, 13-year-old Frederica Hammond is sent to live with her aunt in what seems to be the idyllic hamlet of Harper's Green, in Wiltshire, a long train ride from London. Once in Harper's Green, it is not long before Frederica is befriended by Rachel Grey and Tamarisk St. Aubyn.

As the three mature, Frederica learns that not all scandals and secrets are confined to London. She comes upon a series of shocking revelations that ultimately shatter the very fabric of the village's charm.

Victoria Holt is one of the most popular writers of historical romance novels. With this success in mind, it is surprising that "Seven for a Secret" is such a disappointment. Nothing in this novel is compelling, interesting or believable. For a work by a noted historical fiction writer, "Secrets" is flat in descriptions of both the Victorian era and the period's mores. The characters are singularly unsympathetic; they are either vain, shallow or stupid. The shattering secret -- the novel's focal point -- is telegraphed to the reader early in the narration. Suzanne Falter-Barns.

Random House.

262 pages. $20.

The box step in the title is more than just a dance. It is a pass into the luxuriously carpeted living rooms and bed rooms in the upscale suburban community of Beechwood.

Located just outside Philadelphia, "ultra-WASPy" Beechwood is home to Chelsea Cox, artist and free spirit, and her mother, Patricia. Chelsea, the protagonist of this somewhat overdone first novel by Suzanne Falter-Barns, is an adult Holden Caulfield. Patricia, her foil, is sickeningly middle-class.

The story begins as Chelsea, a.k.a. Kiki, brings her fiance, Bennett Edwards, home to mother for Christmas. Edwards, a Princeton grad and Ward Cleaver wannabe, is black. Conflicts develop as Patricia and other members of her circle are forced to examine their values. Chelsea, meanwhile, has a brief fling with Peter, her childhood sweetheart. Unfortunately, their fling isn't brief enough. In between steamy love scenes, they grapple with the difference between reality and artifice. Their observations, which were original and thought-provoking in the '60s, seem a little tired.

DIANE SCHARPER

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.