First Nights

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, Author Alfred A. Knopf $25 (635p) ISBN 978-0-394-58820-9
Fully developed, multilayered characterizations and authentic, assiduously researched settings distinguish Schaeffer's beautifully crafted novels ( Anya ; The Madness of a Seduced Woman ). Both virtues enhance her latest work, which features two heroines whose life stories are woven through the narrative in counterpoint. Swedish film star Anna Asta is based on Greta Garbo; Ivy Cook is her companion and maid; the women are polar opposites in cultural backgrounds, dispositions and ways of looking at existence, yet they are bound by love. Alternating their distinct voices, Schaeffer adroitly recapitulates the events of their lives. We read of Asta/Garbo's discovery in Sweden by brilliant director Max Lilly, who becomes her mentor; her turbulent Hollywood career and romance with a famous actor, and her increasing reclusiveness. Anna's recital is tart, bitter, often despairing, and her tendency to define her life in terms of movie scenarios sometimes bogs down the lengthy narrative. Ivy's story, meanwhile, involves the loss of her mother and a difficult childhood in her native Caribbean island; her tale has the charm of folklore as she speaks of ghosts and island superstitions. Though Anna's life is more dramatic, and her conflicted personality more subtle, it is Ivy who captures the reader's heart. Two cameo appearances--portraits of Hollywood mogul Sol Pinsky (read Goldwyn) and his kindhearted, rotund wife--add comic relief and dimension. The novel succeeds, in the end, as a moving exploration of the ``thin thread of meaning''--embroidered by love--that connects lives. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1993
Release date: 04/01/1993
Genre: Fiction
Mass Market Paperbound - 10 pages - 978-0-8041-0728-0
Hardcover - 978-0-517-13076-6
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