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STORYTELLERS PREVIEW

President to Princess to Prince Charming

February 21, 1988|by KAREN STABINER

It is flu season. Everyone has a sob story about two days of high fever followed by a week of viral catatonia; two weeks later, they all still sound like Camille. Once-reasonable grown-ups use the bug as an excuse for all sorts of retro behavior. They exhibit a certain petulant dependence on healthy members of their families, they sip flat, warm Coca-Cola as if it were heavenly nectar--and they show a distinct preference for fiction as fevered as their brows. Life is hard enough when you have the flu. No self-respecting patient wants to curl up with a challenging read.

In the early stages of the flu, when eating might not be an option, you can happily ingest The President Is Coming to Lunch instead, by Nan and Ivan Lyons, authors of "Someone Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe." This one, like the earlier book, is a frenzied suspense comedy set in the world of food--this time, at Libby's, a trendy Manhattan restaurant where the real sharks are at the tables, not on the plates. Libby, the proprietress, is about to have the guest of her professional lifetime: The President of the United States wants to come to lunch. Of course, Libby and the Great Masticator have met before--but where, when, and the consequences thereof are for Libby to know and the Secret Service to find out. The return of Libby's divorced but still-loving actor husband, and the amorous overtures of Birnbaum the Secret Service man, only make the pot boil faster.

The Lyons fold real people (Meryl, Dustin, and the like) into the story, but--more fun when you're looking for ways to wile away the hours--they also slip in several fictional characters who bear a striking resemblance to real people. How many can you spot?

Doubleday plans a 35,000 first printing, backed up by a $40,000 publicity and promotion budget for this Literary Guild Alternate and Doubleday Book Club selection.

To put a mere virus in its proper perspective, Facemaker is strong medicine. Carly Randall, reporter for Allure magazine, faces extensive plastic surgery after a car wreck--but Dr. Andre Laval, the best knife in the business, gives her a face that is better than her old one. The only problem is, she's not the only one sporting what she thought was a custom mug--and the other women Laval made in this particular image have a disturbing tendency to end up murdered. If a pretty girl is like a melody, these women are a song by the Grateful Dead. Laval, it turns out, was trying to launch the Face of the decade, and perfecting his technique on various plastic surgery candidates; between his arrogance and Carly's headstrong naivete, "Facemaker" is full of gruesome, if somewhat predictable, twists.

Speaking of predictable: Carly's love interest is Allure editor Mike Morgan, a grumpy, dumpy guy with a heart of gold from the Lou Grant school of journalism, reminding us, yet again, of that happy double standard that requires women to be gorgeous and wonderful, while men can get by merely by being good souls.

McGraw-Hill has sold first serial rights of this Troll Book Club Selection to--where else?--that bastion of female beauty, Cosmopolitan.

Natalie Ray's novel, Focus, is also set at a magazine--this time Trove, a Vogueish fashion mag and, to quote the bound galleys, addresses the timeless question, "What ugly secrets hide behind the face of beauty?" The face in this case belongs to barely pubescent Lina Svoboda, a young modeling phenomenon who belongs, in turn, to Trove art director Simon Bishop who supplies Lina with work and cocaine. Toby Griffin is the photographer who embraces free-lancing as a life philosophy and shies away from a serious commitment to girlfriend Molly McFarlin--until he faces tragedy, comes to understand that beauty is only skin deep, and better late than never (there's a multi-cliche pile-up toward the end of this book), realizes that a good woman is hard to find.

St. Martin's will print 7,500 copies to start, on this first novel from an ex-copywriter at Dallas' Neiman-Marcus.

Lily, the heroine of Cynthia Freeman's The Last Princess is a truly beautiful young woman, but it doesn't seem to do her a bit of good. In the grand tradition of sweeping women's fiction, Lily endures a lifetime of trouble before she finally finds happiness: Her parents can't stand her because (a) she is a girl and (b) they blame her for her younger brother's death; her fiance can't stand her because he can't stand women, period, and he's only marrying to produce an heir for the family fortune; the man she marries instead can't stand her, from time to time, because he's a crazed artist; his parents can't stand her because she isn't Jewish.

What's a girl to do? In Lily's case, she keeps reproducing--her kids like her, some of the time, at least--and tries to look on the bright side of things. For her efforts, she gets a happy surprise in the end. Every overburdened woman on Earth (and that includes, but is not limited to, flu-sufferers) will want to believe in this one.

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