cover image To Die for

To Die for

Joyce Maynard. Dutton Books, $20 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-525-93396-0

Taking her inspiration from a recent murder trial, Maynard ( Baby Love ) reimagines the protagonists in fictional form: 22-year-old Suzanne Maretto, a pathologically self-absorbed, ruthlessly ambitious would-be TV journalist, and the three high school misfits she recruits to kill her husband so that she can be free to pursue her chosen career. Using short vignettes related by 24 characters involved in the incident--parents, neighbors, a high school principal, even Phil Donahue--Maynard attempts to show how Suzanne could gull all three fatherless, poverty-stricken teenagers into committing murder for her sake. While carefully thought out and constructed, the narrative is only partially convincing. Although she does a good job of conveying Suzanne's low intelligence in monologues replete with pretentious errors (``myself having been a very different sort of individual''), Maynard fails both to make the voices of other characters sound genuine and to differentiate among them. In addition, Suzanne is so singleminded, manipulative and obtuse that she is essentially a caricature. Maynard is, however, more deft in her portrayal of our pervasive, pernicious TV culture, especially its influence on the lower middle class. Though Maynard's imagined ending is a cop-out, those not familiar with the outlines of the original case may find the novel absorbing. First serial to Penthouse; Literary Guild selection . ( Jan. )