Dallas set in Melbourne, involving vineyards rather than oil fields—that's the formula for McKinley's (Matilda'"/>

JACARANDA VINES

Tamara McKinley, Author . St. Martin's $25.95 (416p) ISBN 0-312-28434-9

Imagine Dallas set in Melbourne, involving vineyards rather than oil fields—that's the formula for McKinley's (Matilda's Last Waltz) latest multigenerational saga from Down Under. Tyrannical nonagenarian Jock Witney has died, leaving the lucrative family wine business a mess, so the clan convenes to decide the future: sell out to the French or keep tradition going? With the vote split, matriarch Cordelia takes favorite granddaughter Sophie, a freshly divorced 30-year-old corporate lawyer, on a trip through the outback, hoping to instill in her a sense of family history, thereby swinging her vote. Cordelia fills Sophie's head with stories of ancestors' lives, going back to the 19th-century tales of pioneers on a new frontier and of love repeatedly thwarted. Meanwhile, Sophie is reunited with Jay, the love she left behind 10 years ago. As long-held secrets—including a Romany curse—are revealed, Cordelia conjures up sentimental journeys into the past in order to illuminate the present and show the importance of fighting for the future. But the conceit of the vignettes framed within the modern story shortchanges both. The reader never feels a connection to either, in part because of ham-fisted time changes, in which characters are forever drifting into reveries: "She could remember that summer as if it were yesterday." The book is saturated with similar clichés and peopled by crudely drawn supporting characters like Cordelia's immeasurably bitchy daughter, Mary, a cheap Alexis Carrington knockoff. By the time the final boardroom showdown occurs, neither the resolution of the company's future nor of Jay and Sophie's romance holds any surprises or excitement. Agent, Teresa Chris. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 10/22/2001
Release date: 12/01/2001
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