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Thorough Account of a Year of Living : Angels All Over Town by Luanne Rice (Atheneum: $15.95)

February 28, 1986|ELIZABETH BENEDICT | Benedict's novel "Slow Dancing" was nominated for the 1985 L.A. Times Fiction Prize and for the American Book Award for a first novel. and

The opening paragraph of Luanne Rice's first novel is wonderful. "The problem was not that I believed in ghosts. I did not believe in ghosts, but I was visited by one. I could not deny it. When I least expected to, I would see my father . . . even though he had died months earlier. Once I saw him across the floor at the Rose Room in the Algonquin Hotel."

A start like that suggests we might be in for a lyrical novel, a sophisticated mixture of realism and fantasy with a touch of old New York, or literary New York. Unfortunately, "Angels All Over Town" is none of the above. It's a rambling, adolescent account of soap-opera star Una Caven's life in the year she turns 30 and finds True Love.

In the course of her novel, Una's two little sisters get married. Just pages later, Una meets the Right Man and falls madly in love. ("With Sam I knew the simple joys. The sea, the shore, the sand, the waves, sandpipers, tidal pools, clean salt air, lovemaking in the turret room.")

Romantic Ramblings

By then we're halfway through the book and wondering what's going to hold our attention for the rest. The answer is more of the same romantic ramblings, including a whirlwind trip to Europe and, several pages from the end of the novel, another appearance from Una's dead father, talking to her from a cloud (having become an angel).

"Angels All Over Town" reads not like a novel but like an account one would write if the assignment were: "Write down what happened that year." Accounts don't require you to create dramatic tension, to tell a story or to choose details that resonate.

Rice has written a thorough account but not a compelling novel. There are no central events here that pull the narrative along. There are affections and quibbles between characters, but no fully realized, fully revealed relationships that draw us into their orbit with convincing conflict and resolution.

Insignificant Details

Rice says things such as: "Dinner was, in its own way, a success. The food was delicious. The gravy was slightly greasy and the peas were mushy, but no one said so. Only I noticed." Or: "The co-op board sent me a letter saying that they held their meeting at 7:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month, and that they would see me at their next meeting." In a mystery, such details might turn out to have some significance. Here, they are not only irrelevant to the plot but also they make up the narrative itself.

Then there's the matter of Una being a famous soap star. So famous that when she has dinner with a big director in Paris, their photo turns up on tabloids all over New York. But back home, she never gets invited to celebrity parties; and she spends seven years living in a dumpy apartment on her fancy salary before deciding to move. This is not quite star behavior.

But then, I think that in "Angels All Over Town" Luanne Rice was more interested in simply telling us "what happened" than in creating situations that could have happened and in devoting her efforts as a writer to convincing us that they did happen.

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