cover image A House of Secrets

A House of Secrets

Patti Davis. Carol Publishing Corporation, $18.95 (239pp) ISBN 978-1-55972-082-3

The tormented, self-questioning heroine of Davis's ( Homefront ; Deadfall ) third novel, writer Carla Lawton, haunts her Pacific beach house, absorbed in ``an excursion into the backwaters of my life.'' Painfully she recalls the family that maimed her psychologically. Her parents were ``storytellers,'' her father spinning genial fables, her mother committing ruinous perjuries. The characterizations of the parental pair--notably the shrewish, neurotic mother--will titillate and tantalize readers with the question of how closely Davis has modeled them on her parents, Nancy and Ronald Reagan. Keeping secrets is a family disease tainting all the Lawtons: Carla's sister buckles under stress and slits her wrists. Their kindly father has ceded all authority to his harridan wife, who builds their lives around a bizarre lie, which surfaces at last, but not before her mother has warped Carla's spirit, hurling false accusations, shredding her girlhood journals and packing her off to boarding school. Her mind shattered, the mother is hospitalized, while Carla, threatened by the very idea of maternity, tampers harmfully with her own fertility. The strongest scenes detail Carla's fateful hike into the mountains with her guitarist lover. Ambitious but flawed, the novel drifts restlessly between Carla's hot, undigested fury against her mother and an unconvincing affair with a shadowy fellow-writer. But Davis sometimes writes felicitously and, once she has exorcised her demons, may yet forge a more coherent work of fiction. 75,000 first printing; first serial to Penthouse. (Aug.)