cover image His Little Women

His Little Women

Judith Rossner. Summit Books, $19.45 (367pp) ISBN 978-0-671-64858-9

Laboriously contrived, rambling and lacking momentum, Rossner's ( Looking for Mr. Goodbar ) new novel is an unsuccessful amalgam of Hollywood inside story and attempts at ``meaningful'' statements about the tensions between a fiction writer's creative use of real-life situations and her responsibility to avoid libelous characterizations. The eponymous ``little women'' are the four daughters of movie tycoon Sam Pearlstein by the three wives whom he leaves like a snake shedding skins. Nell, Sam's second daughter, is the narrator; an attorney, she competes for her father's love and attention with her older half-sister, Louisa, whose novel, a thinly disguised portrait of Sam, occasions a libel suit; the other two girls, lost in the drug culture, are minor characters. After a promising beginning that establishes expectations of a scandal (only a tepid one, it turns out), Rossner segues into a trite description of teenaged Nell's seduction by a repulsive studio lackey. The novel becomes crowded with caricatures of unlovely Hollywood types, all as flimsy as a strip of celluloid. The complex plotting that leads to the law suit is tortuous and, worse, represents wasted effort, since the climactic trial scene holds little suspense. At times, Rossner is capable of thoughtful writing: on sibling rivalry, Jews in the movie industry, the fiction writer's art. While the book will undoubtedly please a commercial market, it will disappoint fans of the author who expect better. Literary Guild main selection. (Apr.)