Fascination

Leona Blair, Author
Leona Blair, Author Bantam Books $22.95 (512p) ISBN 978-0-553-09310-0
Mass Market Paperbound - 544 pages - 978-0-553-57229-2
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Did the Victorians think about anything but sex? Well, occasionally food and money, if we are to believe the portrait of the year 1900 as painted by Blair (Privilege). Her witty transatlantic drawing-room comedy digresses to the bedroom on any excuse. This is no mere sex romp, however. The tale of three strong-willed American women who fall for craggily handsome financier Steven James on a steamship crossing to London, Fascination intelligently parses the differences between love and lust and the conflicts between duty and happiness. Porcelain-beautiful 18-year-old Cynthia Cunningham craves Stephen's touch, but she is under her father's orders, and the rules of the day, to swap her virginity and fortune for a high-profile British marriage. Her self-assured aunt, the sublime Miranda Cunningham, has an affair with Stephen and knows he's The One, but if she follows her heart, her entire family will be ruined. Charming suffragist Kitt McAllister, who does battle on behalf of a raped stewardess and other vulnerable working women, wants Stephen in spite of herself, until she suspects that he, not Paul Cunningham, is the father of the child Miranda is carrying. The male characters never come alive as the women do, but with the exception of the egregious Hobart Cunningham, the real estate baron who is Cynthia's father, the men, too, are shown as victims of soul-stifling conventions and repressive mores. Blair's one weakness is relying on long menus and other lists to create period atmosphere, rather than well-crafted description. (Feb.)
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