cover image Owl Island

Owl Island

Randy Sue Coburn, . . Ballantine, $23.95 (354pp) ISBN 978-0-345-48763-6

As a brilliant, gorgeous, hypertalented 15-year-old in the '70s, Phoebe Allen fell under the spell of 31-year-old movie director Whitney Traynor. By 18, she's living with him and coauthoring his screenplay for no credit; at 19 she's pregnant and married to musician Mitchell Gentry; a few years later she's a widow. Flash forward to 1996, where the book actually opens, and Phoebe's blossoming love affair with a local artist on Owl Island in the Pacific Northwest is interrupted by Whitney's arrival. Phoebe's 21-year-old daughter, Laurienne, learns for the first time about her mother's relationship with the now-famous director, who may be her real father. Coburn (Remembering Jody ) mishandles the mother-daughter conflict by attempting to equate it with Phoebe's own mother keeping secret the family's history at Auschwitz, but the comparison doesn't ever line up. The familiar melodrama is further marred by overwrought prose ("When she slammed the door, Phoebe heard the crash of shattered trust"), driving Coburn's story into camp territory. (June)