Nearly 1,000 trees have already fallen to provide the paper for Irwin Shaw's new novel.
By any literary standard those trees have died in vain -- making the 130,000 existing copies of "The Top of the Hill" the worst ecological disaster since the Corpus Christi oil spill.
Worse yet, the once-stately conifers have been pulped for what Delacorte concedes is not an original novel at all, but a reconstituted "treatment" (or schematic plot outline) for a commercial movie.
The unwitting browser who buys the alleged novel for $9.95 will thus be double disappointed. First, by the book itself. And second, because ABC-TV will carry the same story as a fourhour, two-part mini-series in late January.
It will probably make good television. Shaw, the prolific multimedia fabricator of "Rich Man, Poor Man" and "Beggarman, Thief," has contrived a very salable hero. Michael Storrs is a restless management consultant in his mid-30s whose bland and bloodless New York life compels him to court danger in a cathartic medley of skydiving, surfing, hang-gliding and skiing.
His wife -- the succulent and sensitive Tracy, a fabric designer -- despises Michael's suicidal pastimes, especially after attending a skydiving session in which two of his co-divers are killed. Understandably distraught at the prospect of taking her husband home in a Hefty trash bag one day, Tracy complains. But her plea for connubial tranquility (and children) cannot prevail against Michael's stubborn Need to Face Death, and by the end of Chapter One, their marriage is on the rocks.
After a few more scenes in which Michael confronts the dreaded ennui of middle-class life, narrowly skirts catastrophes and reveals his friendship for Antoine (a lecherous and manipulative cocktail-lounge pianist of the Sebastian Dangerfield species). Michael flees wife and city, his Porsche pointed at Vermont.
Michael returns to the mountain town where he had worked as a ski instructor after college, regains both his old job and the grudging respect of his colleagues (with his daredevil disregard for mortality) and gradually begins to change.
On the road to self-knowledge, Michael becomes passionately embroiled with Mrs. Eva Heggener, a cruelly selfish Austrian beauty, femme banale and wife of the town's leading hotel-owner, the dying, tubercular but charming Andreas Heggener.
Despite some initial friction, Heggener and Michael become friends, and Michael sets out to cure the ex-Austrian's tuberculosis by persuading him to start skiing again. This unconventional prescription provides the thematic impetus for a sort of low-rent "Magic Mountain" tableau in which each man helps heal the other.
Meanwhile, Shaw fleshes out the cast with a number of indigenous Vermonters, and eventually, in this wholesome, simple environment Michael is Transformed. But by that point the unfortunate reader is past caring.