"Advances," its flap copy proclaims, is "a sizzling novel that rips the covers off the ruthless, competitive world of big-money publishing." Baloney. There may well be an audience that thirsts for a lively, irreverent, perceptive novel about the business of books, but "Advances" isn't what that audience is looking for. It's a piece of creaky, formulaic schlock by contrast with which "Lace" and "Princess Daisy" are works of art.
It isn't even a novel about publishing; it's a cynical exercise that might just as easily have been set in any other world where big deals are struck, high fashion is worn and musical beds is played. Samantha Joseph ("the pen name of two publishing industry insiders who live and work in New York City," presumably the two people whose names appear on the copyright page) knows all the cliche's of trashy fiction and employs them with monotonous regularity, right down to the last brand name:
"Out on the oppressively hot street again, Angela headed up Madison Avenue to 57th Street and made a beeline west to Henri Bendel's. Nowhere else would she be able to find what she was looking for--something daring, sexy and slightly outrageous. And it didn't take her long to find what she wanted. After Angela charged Anne Klein's dramatic scarlet silk pajamas to her account, she went straight to the Delman shoe boutique on the first floor of Bergdorf Goodman and bought a pair of dangerously high-heeled gold sandals."
That's four brand names in one paragraph--five if you count Madison Avenue, which you probably should. And that paragraph is all too characteristic of the dreary path the reader must tread to make it through this story of the many perils conquered by Angela Vaccaro, she of the "long mane of mahogany-colored hair" and the "absolutely flawless" skin and the "deep cleavage" and the "spectacular breasts." You might think that Angela, with those assets to ease her way through life, would be an actress or a model or a call girl, but you can't tell a book by its cover: She's a writer, and a very famous one into the bargain, the author of the best-selling "Blue Grotto" and, now, the spectacular succe s d'estime, "Emerald Isle."
When Angela is a mere slip of a girl her mother, Marie, rises from her deathbed to present her with a portable typewriter and to say: "You have a God-given talent. You're a natural-born writer." But it takes a while for Angela to get around to fulfilling that talent. First, barely 18 years old, she marries the singularly uncharismatic Francisco Marino. Then she travels to Capri and meets Paolo di Fiori, he of the "luxuriant hair" and the "thickly lashed velvety eyes" and the "firm chin" and the "surprisingly sensual mouth." Paolo turns out to be more than a spectacular lover; he is also the heir to a vast auto-manufacturing fortune, and when she drops Francisco in order to marry him her good fortune seems assured.
But that is not to be. Paolo is kidnaped and murdered. Suddenly Angela must rely on her own resources--but they, as Mama vowed, are large ones indeed. Pecking away at her typewriter, she comes up with the manuscript of "Blue Grotto," which is peddled by her pal and agent, Eli Walsh, to the powerful firm of Heywood & Horne, for a $100,000 advance. She becomes an instant success, a celebrity, a habitue' of the world of glitter, and yet . . . and yet . . . and yet she has these terrible nightmares about poor Paolo and she insists that all her lovers "leave as soon as the passionless act was over" because "she wanted no witnesses to the threatening, inevitable effects of her nightmares."
"Advances," in other words, is just another jet-set sob story, distinguished from the romances in the drugstore paperback racks only by the explicit, mechanical detail with which its sex scenes are described. People who know something about the publishing industry will doubtless recognize some of the actual people and places that appear thinly veiled in this roman a clef, but most readers will come away from "Advances" no better informed about the process by which books get published than they were when they started it. As it happens, that process can be interesting, surprising, infuriating and amusing--but you'll learn none of this from "Advances," a humorless and exploitive bit of claptrap.