STREETLynn LauberNorton! 239 pages



June 27, 1993|By DIANE SCHARPER ABOVE THE CLOUDS Jonathan Bach Morrow 288 pages; $20 | DIANE SCHARPER ABOVE THE CLOUDS Jonathan Bach Morrow 288 pages; $20,LOS ANGELES TIMES PRINCESS Anne Wilsdor Greenwillow Books 32 pages; $14.95; ages 4-8


Lynn Lauber


! 239 pages; $19.95

There are many heart-wrenching moments in "21 Sugar Street," Lynn Lauber's first novel. One occurs when Loretta Dardio, a white 17-year-old, gives birth to her illegitimate daughter, Kay. Loretta doesn't want her parents beside her during the birth. The pain is unbearable, though. She screams for her father. But the doctors don't allow him to come in. She hears his voice in the distance and feels lost.

Another kind of heart-wrenching moment occurs when Luther Biggs, the black, 17-year-old father of Loretta's child, combs his mother's hair. His mother, Annie, has always worn a wig. Luther removes the wig and sees how his mother has aged. Her "poor skull is black and oiled through grizzled white curls." His eyes fill with tears.

Loretta and Luther first appeared in "White Girls," Ms. Lauber's well-received book of interconnected short stories. In this novel -- reminiscent of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," with its wry look at hard issues -- about 20 years pass. The lives of Luther, Loretta, their parents and their children come apart and come together again. As the plot moves in every widening circles, this story about interracial love becomes much more than that. Imagine yourself a teen-ager in a hospital bed, arm broken and eyes blackened, trying to absorb the fact that you, the driver, have survived a car accident five hours earlier -- but your little sister did not. Then imagine your father calling, someone you hardly know because he left your mother and five siblings 15 years earlier. What does he say? That his daughter, your sister, has "chosen a different form of consciousness for her own very good reasons, but we'll miss her."

Enough imagining: This scene really did happen, according to Jonathan Bach, who has written "Above the Clouds" in order to free himself from a spiritual demon -- his father, Richard Bach, who named his youngest son after his fictional creation, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. There's only one hitch: Instead of writing the "hate book" he initially intended, Jonathan Bach is co-opted by his father's charm and annoyingly simplistic, self-centered "philosophy" of life . . . and has ended up producing an apologia for his father's paternal failings.

Although its subject matter is serious, "Above the Clouds" is at bottom a mindless romance, one in which father and son together profess mystification as to why Mrs. Bach could still be angry, decades later, at having been left alone with six mouths to feed. Anne Wilsdorf's "Princess" is another book about a prince searching the world for a real princess -- one who will please him -- and his mother. Yes . . . but this one is a joke on everyone, including the young reader. Originally told in French from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Princess and the Pea," the English version has Prince Leopold's mother, the queen, supplying him with a list of real princesses who must first be rescued from monsters. There are a videopteryx, an antiseptyx, a bombachyderm and the three-headed narcissyx; the monster's name is a clue to the personality of the princess he is terrorizing.

Prince Leopold has no trouble overcoming the monsters, but he decides that the princesses are not worth the effort. Discouraged, he meets the daughter of a shepherd "who calls her 'Princess.' " The two fall in love and travel home to the Queen, who is not at all certain that this is the real princess. This calls for the familiar gambit -- the pea under a stack of mattresses -- but "Princess" passes the test. The final question, though, is whether the prince will be a "real" shepherd.


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