All Around the Town

bloody handprint on a curtain on open sliding doorIf you’ve watched television in the last 50 years, you’ve seen pieces of the plot of All Around the Town many times in old movies.

The plot’s container is the tale of Laurie Kenyon, a college student accused of murdering her English professor. Her fingerprints are all over his bedroom.

Laurie was kidnapped at age 4 and sexually abused for two years before the kidnappers abandoned her. When she is arrested for murder, the four personalities she developed to cope with her trauma emerge.

Laurie’s sister, a lawyer, takes on her defense, aided by a handsome, unmarried psychiatrist.

When they abducted Laurie, Bic and Opal Hawkins were tavern entertainers. Laurie’s arrest coincides Bic hitting the big time as a TV evangelist. Using their TV names, Rev. Bobby and Carla Hawkins, they pose as buyers for the Kenyon sisters’ home, which allows them to wiretap it so the reverend can get rid of Laurie if one of her personalities names him as her kidnapper.

Mary Higgins Clark mashes all these implausible elements together, sweetening the mix with even more implausible elements.

In the end, the implausibilities don’t matter. No sensible reader could care about any of these characters. They’ll be relieved at the story’s end when Laurie goes off to play golf.

All Around the Town by Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster. ©1992. 302 p.
1992 bestseller #10; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Gerald’s Game by Stephen King

 Handcuffs hanging on a bedpost
Those are handcuffs on the bedpost.

Lawyer Gerald Burlingame enjoys bondage games with his wife. As Gerald’s Game opens, the fun as worn off: Jessie is handcuffed to a bed headboard in their rural Maine summer home.

Her situation triggers dark, childhood memories. She kicks out, knocking the breath out of Gerald and triggering a coronary. Gerald is dead within minutes.

Jessie is trapped.

She can’t call for help: There’s no one to hear. She can’t reach the phone. She can’t reach the handcuff keys.

All she can do is listen to the outside door bang and relive the horrors of July 20, 1963, the day she watched the solar eclipse with her father.

Jessie is finally freed, but her misery doesn’t end there. She still has repressed childhood psychological problems as well as some memories of her 28 hours of captivity that she has to deal with. She addresses her residual problems by writing about them in a letter to a friend mentioned in the bondage chapters.

What Stephen King delivers in Gerald’s Game is a terrifying tale: It’s much easier to dismiss as fiction a supernatural evil thing than to ignore the evil within people.

Fortunately, Jessie’s letter shows not all people are rotten and some are quite decent.

Gerald’s Game by Stephen King
Bill Russell, illustrator
Viking. ©1992. 332 p.
1992 bestseller #3; my grade: A

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

No Greater Love by Danielle Steel

Iceberg towers over Titanic as it sinks
Where are the lifeboats?

In No Greater Love, Kate and Bert Winfield and the man who is soon to marry their daughter Edwina, perish when the Titanic sinks April 15, 1912.

Although Kate could have left the ship—women and children were given priority in filling lifeboats—she chose to go down with her husband.

Safely back home in San Francisco, Edwina takes on the task of bringing up her five younger siblings, certain that she will never marry and bitterly angry at her mother for choosing to stay with her father instead of caring for her family.

The two oldest Winfield boys, ages 12 and 16, and the two youngest, ages 4 and 12, come through the ordeal relatively unscathed. The middle daughter, a fearful child before boarding the Titanic, is emotionally damaged for life.

Edwina does an admirable job of raising the children.

The youngest are already teenagers when she begins to be interested in a man again. Thanks to him, Edwina realizes that her mother died because she loved her husband too deeply to be parted from him.

Thank you, Danielle Steel, for such an uplifting ending. It feels so much better than acknowledging that the Titanic death were due to a shortage of lifeboats and lack of satisfactory emergency procedures.

No Greater Love by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1991. 392 p.
1991 bestseller #4; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Rich Man, Poor Man: A story without a message

Irwin Shaw’s beguiling novel Rich Man, Poor Man will keep you turning pages way past your bedtime.

Rich Man, Poor Man 1st ed dust jacket

It won’t, however, provide anything other than entertainment.

Shaw looks at the lives of Rudolph, Gretchen and Thomas Jordache from the end of World War II through the Vietnam War.

Their father, a German immigrant, killed to get to America. He finds he can’t get ahead no matter how hard he works. He takes his bitterness out on his wife and kids.

Rudolph, 16, has brains, ambition, and willingness to work hard. He deliberately cultivates his more rare assets: trustworthiness and likeability.

Gretchen is 19. Her high school friends went to college; her parents couldn’t afford to send her. She works as a secretary: The family needs her paycheck.

Tom, 15, is as bitter as his father. He’s smart, just not school-smart. He enjoys hitting people.

Shaw makes the separate lives of the three very different siblings come alive.

When they reach their 40s, Shaw succeeds in bringing them under one roof, but nothing can resolve their childhood traumas.

That’s probably a realistic outcome. Readers, however, crave some glimmer of hope that people can change the trajectory of their lives.

Shaw can’t produce one.

Rich Man, Poor Man by Irwin Shaw
Delacorte Press, [1970]. 723 p.
1970 bestseller #10. My grade: B+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Love Machine: a novel about television

Female gender symbol fills front cover of The Love Machine
The Love Machine is a novel that’s not afraid to be noticed.

The Love Machine has a lot of action, most of which occurs in beds. Nevertheless, it’s a far better novel than I expected from the author of the appalling Valley of the Dolls.

The alpha male in the novel is Robin Stone, who comes out of TV news and pushes his way to temporarily dominate a TV network.

There are lots of women in the novel, Amanda, Maggie, and Judith being the three who lend their names to the novel’s sections.

Amanda, the blonde, dies.

Maggie, the brunette, goes into films.

I don’t remember Judith’s hair color or what happens to her. By the time she appeared, I’d lost what little interest I’d had in Robin’s sex partners.

The most interesting part of the novel is the mystery of why Robin dislikes brunettes.

Under hypnosis, Robin learns he is adopted; his dark-haired German mother was a prostitute who was murdered by a customer.

After his foster mother dies, Robin tries to find his real family, but he can’t find any of her relatives.

Whether Robin sorted out his childhood trauma, readers never learn.

Susann wraps up the novel with the consummate expertise of a writer who won the Best Dressed Woman in Television Award four times.

The Love Machine by Jacqueline Susann
Grove Press, 1969. paper. 511 p. 1968 bestseller #3. My grade: C+.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni