Test Pattern

Marjorie Klein, Author
Marjorie Klein, Author William Morrow & Company $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-688-17284-8
Paperback - 271 pages - 978-0-06-095953-1
Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-06-203122-8
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The boob tube becomes an oracle in this smart but uneven debut that fails to do justice to its inventive premise. Part sentimental coming-of-age tale, part screwball comedy kitsch-fest and part magical realist fable, the novel suffers from stylistic overload. Chafing at her ""dull as dog food"" life in 1954 Newport News, Va., housewife Lorena Palmer is sure that the arrival of the family's first TV spells her salvation from biscuit-making and supermarket shopping. Programs like The Arthur Murray Party reawaken dashed show-biz dreams whose pull Lorena cannot resist, even at the expense of her marriage to moping shipyard worker Pete. Lorena initiates an affair with an old high school crush whose cousin Wally works for Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, the program that (Lorena imagines) will bring her fame as a dancer. Never mind that Lorena is comically untalented; she will stop at nothing to join the pantheon of small-screen gods and goddesses whose lives seem more real than her own. At the same time, Lorena's 10-year-old daughter, Cassie, sees another kind of future in the hypnotic test pattern that appears between shows. A sort of pop-culture Cassandra, she catches glimpses of the Oprah Winfrey Show, Ronald Reagan's election, the Apollo moon landing and the Kennedy assassination. When a harbinger of immediate domestic disaster appears on the test pattern, her strange gift finds frightening validation. Cassie's prophetic power (a literalizing of TV's Greek root, ""far-seeing"") is a clever conceit, but the sacrificing of subtlety for name-dropping kitsch vitiates the novel's impact. (Feb.)
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