Book Review : Sex, Money, Misery: All Usual Stuff

Dirlam is a Times staff writer

Dreams Are Not Enough by Jacqueline Briskin (Putnam's : $18.95)

Novels by best-selling authors, California style, are expected to have bigger-than-life characters--rich or famous, or both--with awful problems and satisfying resolutions.

But even given such expectations, Jacqueline Briskin endows her starring characters with so many superlatives of beauty and goodness, and shovels up so many obstacles and miseries for them to overcome, that suspension of disbelief is all but impossible.

The heroine is a deprived and uneducated but beautiful migrant farm worker who fends off horrible men, runs away to Los Angeles at age 15 in a cheap red sun dress and stiletto heels and imm1701079393university student whose cruel and domineering uncle heads a major movie studio.

A Plot Twist

It is a tribute to Briskin's talent as a storyteller that one keeps reading at all. The complications evolve immediately, of course, with the young husband growing ashamed of his child bride, while his handsome cousin grows to love her. The rich and powerful uncle gives the plot its twist by threatening evil consequences unless the young beauty leaves the country. He happens to know a French movie mogul who will use her in his films.

So all the necessary ingredients are in place: glamour, fame, wealth, travel, romantic complications and danger. As the plot thickens--and that cliche is perfect for this murky tale--the reader must wade through an abundance of adjectives and their modifiers: supremely passionate, exquisitely beautiful, infinitely painful.

As the story opens, each member of the family hates the heroine who is variously known as Alice, Alicia and Alyssia, a name that changes along with the metamorphoses of her life. She has called them together for a mysterious reason, and each one is worried about what it might be.

The past is woven and unraveled from each of their points of view, the characters replay the ways in which the heroine changed their lives, and yet the plot does move progressively toward a climax.

Rags and Riches Detailed

California mansions and glittery parties are described in detail; film-making sequences and medical treatments are rendered with less authority. The application of makeup, the artful design of expensive clothing and the shabby accouterments of poverty are as diligently detailed as rape scenes and revelatory confessions. Even though fame, glamour and rags-to-riches are basic ingredients, we're supposed to know that it's the love story that's important.

Why read material like this? Because it's entertaining. Bad things happen to sweet people, halfway-decent people take to drink and turn ugly, mean people grow old and die, rich people lose fortunes in Las Vegas, mobsters get their hooks into good people, and there are enough tragedies, calamities and variations on sexual themes to keep the everyday realities at bay right to the last page.

Can this story possibly end happily? Can it possibly end otherwise?

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