Now that book, I did read as a teenager. I remembered enough of the story during this re-read o be sure of that.I also watched the movie, starring Christopher Plummer and Stephanie Beacham. I spent days tracking a copy of the movie, to give it a serious re-watch. I’m going to be talking about the movie on Friday, but for now, here is what I thought of the novel.
I think the book is best approached as a loosely connected collection of character vignettes. As a single narrative unit, it leaves a lot to be desired. There is no one story here, and that is the simple fact. There are six stories here, the story of five actors who star in a new primetime soap called Manhattan, and the story of it’s producer.
Of the six stories, those of the lead actor, Zach Taylor, and the producer, Mel Weschler, are the least developed: they have a lot of backstory, which is exposed in a few pages, and they have their romantic relationships: Zach with second lady Jane Adams and Mel with leading lady Sabina Quarles. I especially wished that the character development of Zach had been better explored. On the other hand, his story is one that could very easily become insulting to a lot of people if not properly handled. The 80’s romance novels field being what it was, it’s probably best that the author didn’t delve too much into it.
The stories of Jane Adams and ingenue Gabby Smith are more detailed, but they are wrapped up early in the story, leaving little room for the characters to evolve, other then in their romances, Jane with Zach and Gabby with the brooding new sex symbol Bill Warwick. Sabina Quarles’s story is also wrapped quickly, but the effect is disguised by the fact that Sabina is the first character we are introduced to, and her story is the last one exposed and resolved.
The only real narrative arc that really lasts for the length of the novel is that of Bill Warwick. His problem, his secret, is introduced on chapter 3 and is wrapped by chapter 32 (of 39, the next four chapters are when Sabina’s story finally unfolds, and the last three are pure fluff) and with every appearance his story moves along one careful step at a time. If all the stories were set up that carefully, the book would likely be much better for it.
Then there are the little quirks that bugged me, like the endless repetition of certain plot points (any editor worth it’s salary should have caught those!) and the plot bunny that is the fake tv show. The characters are all presenting this Manhattan thing as something brand new, unlike anything anyone has seen before. The book was written in 1985, and nothing about the setting indicates that the story is set in the past. Primetime soaps weren’t new by 1985. Dallas existed, and so did Dynasty, and probably others that I just can’t think up right now.
Far from the best book I’ve read. There are many ways of improving that story, and the movie actually does improve on some level. But it’s not essentially a bad book: it is entertaining, and the nostalgia factor boosts the rating to 5.5 out of ten.