MAYBE THE THING that bugs me most about this book is the fact that the jacket copy describes it as "a romantic dream of a novel." Here's an excerpt from the description of our heroine's mother's first meeting with her husband-to-be:
"She remained silent and waiting, passive against Stash's soaking wet polo shirt. She could smell his sweat and it confounded her with desire. . . . She wanted him to fall to the ground with her in his arms, and grind himself into her."
Tastes differ, and so, on occasion, do definitions. But if that's Ro-mance, I'll eat my Errol Flynn posters.
Princess Daisy is a real princess, if that helps. At least she is descended from filthy rich White Russian aristocrats, and her mother is a beautiful, glamorous movie star. Despite these advantages the poor girl has a rough life. She is raped by her half-brother at the age of 15, she loses all her money, and -- worst of all -- she is haunted by a Secret. The Secret is that she has a retarded twin sister. Don't get me and Daisy wrong; she isn't ashamed of her twin. She's so noble you wouldn't believe it. However, the sister's handicap must remain a secret because . . . I never did understand why, and I refuse to read the book again to find out.
This is, of course, a genre novel, in the same sense that gothics, westerns and mysteries are genre novels. The literary style is on a par with that of a fairly well written detective story, the plot makes a gothic novelist's fantasies pale into stark realism, and the characters are more rigidly cardboard than anyone Zane Grey ever invented. What gives the book its appeal (I pressume it must appeal to someone) and defines its type is its snobbism. The characters are all Beautiful People, and Beautiful Names are dropped with such frequency that they litter the pages like rotten apples -- for delicate decadence, as we all know, is one of the most important attributes of the BPs, even more important than beauty or wealth. The BPs perform no useful function whatever; they live but to enjoy. And Krantz wallows in their enjoyment. She describes in lavish detail their beautiful persons, their clothing, their jewels, their furniture, their homes and even the food they eat.
In a series of dizzying flashbacks the action moves from Daisy, on top of the Empire State Building (never mind what she's doing up there, it isn't important) to her mother, to her father, and to her grandparents, who were Beautiful Aristocrats of pre-revolutionary Russia. (Krantz's descriptions of Prince Vasily's lifestyle will give you a new sympathy for the revolutionaries.) Finally, about page 200, we get back to where we started, with Daisy. She is now directing television commercials (yes, that's why she is on the Empire State Building) and is involved with all sorts of other BPs including several hunt country types, a Detroit automobile heiress and a lesbian fashion designer. The characters are more or less repulsive, according to the tastes of the reader. The only real villain is Daisy's rotten half-brother (not engagingly decadent, really rotten) and even as she escapes his lust at the end of Chapter 11, we know he'll catch up with her again before the book is over. He does,; but Virtue triumphs and in a glittering climax Daisy achieves happiness, success and peace of mind.
So I guess what really bothers me is that the jacket blurb is right. Princess Daisy may well be today's dream of romance -- and what a sad, tawdry, tacky dream it is. An old-fashioned fairy tale princess had every right to expect wealth, fame, physical beauty and a handsome prince. Daisy gets them all. Her prince is the head of a huge corporation, who conquers the dragons of competition, industrial unrest and -- most dreadful of all dragons -- the potential failure of his billion dollar advertising campaign. He discovers Daisy-Cinderella in her rags (extremely chic rags, naturally) and transforms her into the queen of commercials, naming his new cosmetic line after her and exploiting her dazzling physical beauty in order to win riches and fame for both of them. In the equivalent of the grand coronation-wedding finale, Daisy, dressed in silver sequins, leads, a procession of troikas (yes, troikas) across Central Park to the scene of her triumph, where, surrounded by spotlights, gypsy bands, 175 pounds of the best beluga, and other accoutrements of high-cost hype, she and Sinatra and Johnny Carson and Streisand and the rest of the BPs will launch the new cosmetic line. O tempora! O mores! Oh Zenda and Graustark, buried under a rain of schlock!
If Daisy earns one single word of legitimate literary commendation it will be because the critic has sunk into senility; but what difference does it make? To paraphrase an old Arab saying, "The dogs (in this case "bitches" might be more appropriate) bark; the caravan passes on" -- right up to the top of the best-seller list.