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Wilton Barnhardt, Author
Wilton Barnhardt, Author St. Martin's Press $24.95 (311p) ISBN 978-0-312-18684-5
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After the exuberant Emma Who Saved My Life and the 772-page blockbuster Gospel, Barnhardt has trimmed his sails somewhat in a novel that, despite several allusions to Mary McCarthy's The Group, is closer in spirit to Valley of the Dolls. In the late 1970s, young Samantha Flint is the classic exiled Midwesterner fleeing from her boat-salesman father and Missouri background for cloistered Smith College. There she meets Mimi Mohr, who is fashionable, Jewish, sophisticated--everything the Show Me state is not. Samantha, of course, is permanently smitten. The novel follows the two women through Smith and then through Reagan-era America. Mimi, with her art degree, wants to own a gallery but ends up managing stars in Hollywood. Samantha abandons her writerly aspirations to become legislative director to Senator Proctor, a curmudgeonly but lovable moderate Republican who quotes Shelley and, unfortunately, retires soon after Samantha goes to work for him. He's followed by reactionary ""Family"" Frank Shanker. Desperately clinging to her position with Shanker, Samantha gets hooked on booze and pills and even helps Shanker turn his son's suicide into a political stunt. Finally, in revulsion, she exchanges D.C. for L.A., where high-flying Mimi takes her in tow. Popping speed to get through her day, Samantha marries the gay singer of a teeny-bopper band to provide him cover, but the lid is obviously going to come off that match soon. Can Sam and Mimi, whose agency sponsors the singer, survive the fallout? Barnhardt might have been trying to produce an X-ray of the American spirit in this cautionary tale. What he has actually written is a page-turning, pills-and-sex saga whose last page will bring readers to the brink of overdose. (July)
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