cover image The Vineyard

The Vineyard

Barbara Delinsky. Simon & Schuster, $25 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-684-86484-6

Wine makers call its meritage: the commingling of several varietal wines into a product that can be marketed as a brand name, year after year. With this novel, the latest of 60-plus, veteran writer Delinsky has once again done exactly that, producing a fan-pleasing blend. At 35, Olivia Jones is a restorer of old photographs, and the mother, via a brief relationship, of a dyslexic, unhappy and bratty 10-year-old named Tess. Herself the daughter of a single mother who checked out as soon as Olivia turned 18, Olivia fantasizes about being related to Natalie Seebring, a client who is the strong-willed and manipulative matriarch of a dysfunctional family of Rhode Island wine makers. When Natalie offers to hire Olivia to be her memoirist and ""personal buffer"" for a summer, she jumps at the chance. Soon she is embroiled in the turmoil caused when septuagenarian widow Natalie decides to marry former vineyard manager Carl Burke. Natalie's middle-aged children object loudly, and several family employees resign in protest. Meanwhile, Olivia is attracted to Carl's son (and successor as vineyard manager), Simon, who has become a solitary workaholic since the death of his entire family four years earlier in a sailing accident. The only suspense in the slow-moving plot comes at the end, when a hurricane threatens the wine crop, coinciding with the emotional storms produced by Natalie's easily anticipated revelations about her early life; the style is undistinguished, replete with clich s and italics. Readers who prefer full-bodied novels are likely to find this story bland, thin and cloying. Those fond of literary Beaujolais nouveau, however, to be gulped down on a summer's day without critique, will enjoy this practiced blend of pop psychology, wine-making lore, learning-disability theory and sensuality. (June)