cover image The Memory Book of Starr Faithfull

The Memory Book of Starr Faithfull

Gloria Vanderbilt / Author Alfred A. Knopf $24 (309p) ISBN 978

Starr Faithful was a reticent, studious and beautiful young woman whose death in 1931 at age 25 gave rise to rumors of sexual misconduct. Vanderbilt (Never Say Good-bye) makes a misguided attempt to recreate the mysterious Starr's diary, which she called her ``Memory Book,'' and which disappeared shortly after her death. Beginning when she is 11, Starr writes to ``Mem,'' chronicling her maturation as affected by the erotic obsession of her cousin Andrew J. Peters, Boston's Social Register mayor 34 years Starr's senior. His avuncular interest in her education veils years of damaging sexual exploitation before Starr's social-climbing mother learns the truth. Starr's breakdown and subsequent delusional relationship with a ship's surgeon bring the guilty party to light. The flavors and excesses of post-WWI society are captured dead on here-with appearances by personalities (Aimee Semple McPherson, Carl Jung), places (the Cotton Club) and even ships (the Carpathia, the Franconia)-but these historical details cannot compensate for the novel's mundane portrayals and ultimately static tone. Moreover, Vanderbilt's period accuracy includes the cloying lingo perhaps favored by flappers but apt to prove nauseating to the modern reader (the ether that Starr's cousin uses to sedate her is termed ``creamy dreamy''). As a psychological profile, this is intriguing guesswork-though a trivial and disappointing read. Literary Guild selection. (Oct.)