Family, celebrity, sensuality, Puzo

Six October Novels

October 21, 2001|By Victoria A. Brownworth | Victoria A. Brownworth,Special to the Sun

Sue Miller published her first novel, The Good Mother, in 1985 at the age of 42 to critical acclaim. With each successive novel, she has honed her skill as premiere cartographer of the gritty terrain of familial relationships, terrain she revisits in The World Below (Knopf, 275 pages, $25).

Catherine Hubbard flees the trauma of divorce to her grandmother Georgia's home in Vermont. There, she begins to piece together her own life even as she uncovers the secrets of her dead grandmother's via a diary that reads as a life primer.

Childhood got stripped from Georgia Rice early when she was forced to care for her siblings after the death of her mother. Then at 19, a cruelly arbitrary twist of fate sent her to a sanitarium for tuberculosis. There, she became lovers with a dying young man (homage to Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain). Upon her release, she seeks a different life from that she has lived thus far.

This moving tale is much more than a trip down one family's memory lane. Miller details how loss and regret threaten and even shatter hope. Subtlety and nuance hallmark her writing as she brings characters, place and time to vivid, turbulent life.

The axiom "be careful what you wish for" lies at the chill heart of Clive Barker's latest thriller, Coldheart Canyon (HarperCollins, 676 pages, $27.95) set in a Hollywood rife with perils past and present. Finding the luster on his star fading, top-grossing action actor Todd Pickett heads for the plastic surgeon -- to ghastly result. His manager, Maxine, secrets him in a villa deep in a remote Hollywood canyon. Alas, the villa is occupied: by former owner and silent screen star Katya Lupi and her producer, Willem Zeffer -- as well as a plethora of ghosts of Hollywood legends, their offspring and some exotic animals Lupi once kept.

But these are not the only revelations. A tiled room in the basement known as "the Devil's country" offers eternal youth to all who visit -- so long as the visits aren't discontinued. Soon Pickett is lured to the tiled room and begins to believe the lithe young woman who claims to be Lupi may indeed be the 100-year-old actress. Of course in Hollywood everything has its price, as Pickett soon discovers.

Chock-full of Barker's trademark grisliness and detailed sexuality, Coldheart Canyon provides wry and pointed commentary on the cost of celebrity and obsession with it. This cautionary tale is Sunset Boulevard meets Shangri-la on The Island of Dr. Moreau with a touch of Faust thrown in. Riveting.

Portrait in Sepia (HarperCollins, 320 pages, $26) continues the saga Isabel Allende began with House of the Spirits and Daughter of Fortune. Born in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1880, protagonist Aurora del Valle is the granddaughter of Daughter of Fortune's complex heroine, Eliza Sommers. Like her grandmother, Aurora seeks her roots. In the lush raconteuring that defines Allende's work, Aurora's story evolves, with Allende deftly weaving between Aurora's present and the past that spawned her.

As ever, Allende gifts her readers with a vast and eventful landscape that includes birth, death, love and war all painted with deeply sensual strokes. The finely drawn settings are post-Gold Rush California and civil war-torn Chile. The translation from the Spanish, evocatively done by Margaret Sayers Peden.

Mario Puzo may be dead but yearning for his mob stories lives on. The Family (HarperCollins, 373 pages, $27) is his unfinished final work, completed by his longtime companion, Carol Gino, after his death.

One of the most notoriously connected families in Renaissance Italy were the Borgias, whom Puzo opines were forerunners of the Mafia. The Family details the election of Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI and his quest to unite the papal states into a unified Italy. To that end, Rodrigo makes his eldest son, Cesare, a cardinal; marries his second son, Juan, to a relative of the king of Spain; and marries his third son, Jofre, to a relative of the king of Naples. Alas, his daughter, Lucrezia, the heir best known to modernity, becomes the ultimate pawn in her father's power play -- married to the Duke of Pessaro (annulled), then to a relative of the king of Naples (murdered) and finally to the Duke of Ferrara.

The other siblings have troubles, too. Juan is murdered (life was rough in Naples) and Cesare, released from the College of Cardinals, becomes leader of the papal armies. Sudden death quells Rodrigo's quest, leaving his children to choose their own paths. Fans of Puzo will not be disappointed by this page-turner of an historical thriller.

The way we live now is rarely joyous, even when it comes to love. Lucky Us (Algonquin Books, 288 pages, $22.95), Joan Silber's bittersweet tale of two lovers, twentysomething artist Elisa and fiftysomething ex-con drug dealer Gabe, details how getting caught has become part of growing up.

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.