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I'll Take Manhattan by Judith Krantz (Crown: $18.95; 443 pp.)

May 04, 1986| Betty Goodwin | Goodwin is a free-lance writer.

Although it may sound like the title of a Woody Allen movie, "I'll Take Manhattan" is pure Judith Krantz ("creme de la Krantz" if you listen to her publicity machine), the fourth novel by the popular author of "Princess Daisy" and "Scruples."

With its arrival on the book stands comes the announcement that the novel will be transformed into a television miniseries. That should tell you something. Much like the creators of "Dynasty" or "Dallas," Judith Krantz (the Aaron Spelling of literature?) asks her readers to leave reality behind in order to follow her tale of characters who live on trust funds and breathe the rarefied air of Manhattan penthouses. New York real estate kingpin Donald Trump even makes a cameo appearance, which should make for interesting casting when the book hits the TV screen.

Krantz has chosen the glitzy side of magazine publishing as the setting for her story, a world in which the author herself once toiled, and she fills her tale with the back-room workings of everything from photo shoots to page layouts and expense account lunches.

When the miniseries comes around, the biggest part to cast will be that of the beautiful, thrice-married young heroine Maxi Amberville, whose life until now has been "dedicated to extracting the greatest amount of fun that could still be found on the planet earth." But all that changes when her father Zachary, founder of Amberville Publications, a magazine empire on par with Time-Life, expires suddenly and under mysterious circumstances, and Maxi's mother, Lilly, marries Cutter, Zachary's no-good brother (another juicy part). Cutter--"a man who wore invisible bitterness as permanently as if it had been tattooed on his forehead"--wants to sell the company in order to erase Zachary's memory once and for all. With the future of the company at stake, Maxi decides to take over the family's moribund trade publication, "Buttons and Bows," and turn it into a woman's magazine that will take publishing circles by storm.

To her credit, instead of choosing one of Maxi's brothers to pull off this feat, Krantz has created a woman character capable of doing so herself, a woman for whom work eventually becomes as essential as the man in her life. Unfortunately--and here's where reality takes a hike--Maxi has never worked a day in her life. Somehow, she just got smart on the limo ride to her office. But family ties are important here, and we are led to believe that Maxi's loyalty to her father's memory provides enough incentive for her to see "B & B" through.

There's also a lot of truth in Krantz's (Maxi's) analysis of what's wrong with women's magazines today: They shame women into believing that they can have and do it all. At one point, Maxi shouts, "Enough guilt trips about how pathetically little you know about how to handle money, about how you can't accessorize your clothes, keep a neat closet, don't take enough calcium, haven't been promoted at work, can't manage a job and a family too, and need your marriage saved. . . ."

Yet such sane moments are offset by implausible ones, such as when Maxi's blind brother (the Cordon Bleu chef) is attending a Broadway opening, recognizes an assassin's voice in the crowd and wrestles him to the ground before his gun goes off.

Krantz hasn't forgotten sex (Were you wondering?): every variation from the unholiest heterosexual affair to the most unsavory homosexual trick; and from dumb, quickie marriages to undying romances.

In the end--but, ah, there you have it: The trouble with this story is that it seems never to end. An author with the golden gift of selling power should be able to fly with the speed of the Concorde. Alas, in "I'll Take Manhattan," Krantz rolls along like the Orient Express--luxuriously appointed, but slow.

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