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Storytellers : Trials of the Beautiful People

November 22, 1987|KAREN STABINER

Cheaper than a facial, more uplifting than a plastic surgeon's scalpel, it's--mainstream fiction, where for under $20, usually, you can buy yourself the chance to live the life of a beautiful person, albeit vicariously. The merely mortal reader can, for as long as it takes to riffle those pages, experience the joys of a wrinkle- and flab-free existence. So what if it doesn't last forever? Neither does a collagen injection.

Kate Marchand, the TV-station magnate heroine of Pamela Bullard's More Than Dreams has it all: She is the 5-foot-10, slim, high-cheekboned, 42-year-old who "could easily be mistaken for a model in her early thirties," who runs a Boston television station that she intends to expand, via syndication, into a new network. She has a handsome, if sometimes errant, surgeon husband, a secluded compound in the woods, and a professional gameplan that hinges on one Kim Winston-- another high-cheekboned beauty, who luckily has blond hair and blue eyes, so as not to get her confused with the brunette Kate. Their professional and personal lives are intertwined as they strive for success; their travails (ranging from corporation to connubial to cocaine-running insurgencies) are offset by their victories, which they so clearly deserve.

It's a wonderful life. Random House is selling 50,000 copies of it, initially, backed up by a $50,000 ad and promotion budget. Bullard was a TV reporter, anchor and producer in Boston. Perhaps, with this book, she can move into miniseries.

The three British sisters in Mary-Rose Hayes' Winter Women are beautiful people with somewhat ugly souls who undergo the karmic equivalent of a body tuck as they seek the truth about their father, who may have endowed them with a rather nasty genetic legacy. Isobel is the Hollywood star who roared right past Mr. Right in her quest for success; Christian is the millionairess whose wealthy husband gave her everything money could buy and nothing else; and Arran--ah, those crazy writers--is a nutsy bestelling author with a yen for sadomasochistic sex.

The haunting question is, Did Daddy, or, more to the point, his genes, make them do it? On their way to the answer, the three sisters untangle their messy private lives, engage with the requisite number of bodies of the opposite sex, and live thrilling, multi-continental lives.

In anticipation of a triple happy ending, Dutton plans a "major" ad-promotion campaign for this Literary Guild Featured Alternate.

There is, of course, a mildly troubling subtext to the causal link between a beautiful body and a fabulous life, to the suggestion that perfect people somehow deserve to achieve perfect lives--and the marred masses, by virtue of their flaws, will have to settle for something less. Can you imagine a mousy, bespectacled, slightly dumpy heroine in a polyester blend getting carried away on any of these flights of fancy? Of course not; she's clearly not a member of what commercial fiction seems to define as the master race.

Len Deighton takes on the professional promoters of master racism in his latest, Winter: A Novel of a Berlin Family, using much the same technique employed by Bernardo Bertolucci in his epic film, "1900." In "1900," two boys were born on the same day, one to the wealthy landowner, one to a peasant who worked his land; in Deighton's book, two brothers who will turn out to be just as dissimilar are born to a German banker and his American wife. Peter, the good brother, is an intellectual appalled at the rise of Nazism who eventually travels to America and marries a Jew. His brother Paul commits himself to the cause and marries a woman who is loyal to the Nazi party, if unfaithful to her husband. The two brothers meet, again, at the war crimes trials at Nuremberg.

Deighton, the author of 19 novels, including "The Ipcress File," knows just how to mix fact and fictional suspense, and Knopf has taken a large bet that his expertise will pay off: The Book of the Month Club alternate selection has a first printing of 100,000 copies.

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