THE LAST NOEL
Scarcely a month after J.F.K.'s assassination, two seven-year-old children—a spoiled, white North Carolina girl born on Christmas Eve and a poor, street-smart Philadelphia black boy born hours later on Christmas Day—take a sleigh ride early Christmas morning and begin a lifelong friendship. After an intriguing opening, this earnest fable about social change from veteran novelist Divided into 12 unevenly spaced vignettes—each set during the Christmas season—the plot traces the star-crossed friendship of Noni Tilden, daughter of her town's richest family, and Kaye King, grandson of Noni's mother's maid, across a span of four decades. The familiar characters verge on stereotypes: Noni's father, Bud, is a hard-drinking former basketball jock; her mother a snobby socialite; her brother, Wade, a bigoted, scheming land developer. Aunt Ma, Kaye's grandmother, is a kind but tough woman who "knows to keep her place in a white man's world." Malone (First Lady) also has a corny way of introducing bits of race-related history and period details into the narrative ("Judy's doing it. It's called aerobics," says one cocktail party guest to another). The story does pick up some momentum about two-thirds of the way through, and readers who stay the course will be rewarded with a sentimental, fitfully affecting drama of sibling feuds and divorces, loss and reconciliation. (Nov.)
Forecast:Sourcebooks Landmark is counting on Malone's crowd-pleasing abilities to make this a big Christmas book—a 100,000 first printing is planned. The price is definitely right, and a strong marketing campaign and seven-city author tour should help, though the book will face stiff competition from other Christmas releases and classics.