THE BRONZE HORSEMAN
Set in her native St. Petersburg, Russia, Simons's latest thick novel (after Tully, etc.) focuses on a WWII love affair. As the story opens, Tatiana, the youngest member of the Metanova family, is just 17; she still shares a bed with her older sister, Dasha. Not long after the country goes to war with Germany, Tatiana meets Alexander, a soldier, and sparks fly. It turns out, however, that Alexander is the same soldier Dasha has been crowing about. Possessed of a strong sense of family loyalty, and living under conditions that permit no privacy, Tatiana refuses to interfere with her sister's happiness, but the attraction between Tatiana and Alexander proves too powerful. Complicating matters, another soldier, Dimitri, has information that could destroy Alexander, and Dimitri likes Tatiana, too. In order to protect both Dasha's feelings and Alexander's life, the star-crossed lovers become part of a deceptive quadrangle as war intensifies around them. Taking her title from a tragic poem by Alexandr Pushkin, Simons skillfully highlights the ironies of the socialist utopia. Despite the novel's sprawling length and its seemingly epic scope, the nearly single-minded focus on dialogue between Tatiana and Alexander leaves other character development shortchanged and the reader with the impression of a peculiarly tiny canvas. Naïve and occupying the Cinderella role in her family, Tatiana is certainly a survivor—though one who finally outstays her welcome. While her love story is often both tender and fierce, it is also overwrought and prolonged past the breaking point. (June)
Forecast:An advertising blitz, five-city author tour and glamorous jacket may distract readers from the novel's shortcomings and ensure short-term success (foreign rights have been sold in 10 countries), but this is not the Russian Thorn Birds the publisher hopes it will be.