Pleasures That Should Be Guiltier : SCRUPLES TWO, <i> By Judith Krantz (Crown Publishers: $22; 517 pp.)</i>
Judith Krantz once said she didn’t think critics reviewed her books fairly; after all, she wasn’t trying to compete for the same audience that reads Dostoevski.
The author of such mega-sellers as “Scruples,” “Princess Daisy” and “Mistral’s Daughter” has a point. Along the way she’s probably been bashed for the sake of being bashed.
Since I have read my share of Krantz and Krantz-esque books (as a college English major I had to give my brain a reprieve between “Beowulf” and “The Norton Anthology of English Literature”), I have a certain fondness for well-written escapist novels. Give me a book that sends my mind on vacation and I’m happy. It’s a better guilty pleasure than eating bonbons; novels don’t lodge unattractively on your hips. So why not a sequel to “Scruples”?
At the end of that book, our glamorous heroine, Billy Ikehorn Orsini, seemed destined to live happily ever after turning from ugly duckling into gorgeous swan, marrying major money, creating a retail empire (Scruples is the name of her fabulously chic Beverly Hills boutique), surviving widowhood and finally marrying promising producer Vito Orsini.
Billy, Vito and boutique employees Spider Elliott and Valentine O’Neill are back for the sequel, along with some new characters who carry the story along through the mid-1970s and into the ‘80s.
What do you give the heroine who has everything? You might make her marriage collapse at the beginning of the book, which Krantz does with Billy. But before her union with Vito finally hits the skids she discovers she has a spunky 16-year-old stepdaughter, a secret Vito’s been keeping from her since they met. Bonding with Gigi helps Billy recover from a devastating miscarriage that hastens the downward spiral of her marriage. But even with that relationship and her expansion plans for international Scruples boutiques, Billy is still the poor little rich girl, searching for a man who will love her for something other than her millions.
A major tragedy sends Billy spinning into an emotional abyss and she retreats to Paris, where she has a torrid affair with a struggling yet dashing American artist, all the while using an alias, just to make sure he loves her for her. But when he discovers her true identity, the whole romance comes crashing down around her.
Fear not--after all her traumas Billy does indeed find happiness and a new husband. But then, of course she would. This is a Judith Krantz novel.
Still, I couldn’t help but feel Krantz had cheated me in this book. One of the essential components of this genre is to have the heroine overcome a seemingly insurmountable problem or some wretched secret that threatens to ruin her forever. Somehow I just couldn’t get up a pile of sympathy for a woman with more money than God who regularly makes the best-dressed list and licks her wounds by flying to Paris, where she buys a million-dollar house.
And it’s a little difficult to believe that Billy, with all her contacts, can’t find a man who isn’t either after her fortune or emasculated by it. Surely Billy could have gotten herself a decent guy who could love her and still respect her Swiss bank account in the morning. I mean, even Liz Taylor found Larry Fortensky. OK, she had to go to Betty Ford to do it, but she still found him.
Another distracting aspect of “Scruples Two” is Krantz’s stilted dialogue, which at times is so jarring it makes me wonder if Krantz has spent the better part of her life in a cave.
Here’s a sample: Gigi has just met her new roommate, Cosmo girl wanna-be Sasha Nevsky, who’s offering to train the naive teen in the ways of slutdom:
“ ‘If you can teach me to cook I’ll teach you how to be a Slut . . . there are a million vital details you’d never be able to imagine on your own, but you’ll have to get some decent clothes.’
“ ‘I have decent clothes. I just wore this old stuff so I wouldn’t intimidate you.’
“ ‘Maybe I can’t dance, Gigi, but you’re talking to a Nevsky here, and the daughter of an Orloff. We don’t intimidate.’
“ ‘I noticed,’ Gigi said. ‘Somehow that came across.’
“ ‘I like you,’ Sasha said, ‘And when I like someone, they stay liked. I’ll never make you suffer.’
“ ‘I like you too,’ Gigi said, throwing her arms around Sasha’s waist and giving her a kiss on the shoulder.
“ ‘This could be fun.’ Sasha said.
“ ‘It’s fun already,’ Gigi declared.”
I could go on, but I won’t. Krantz does, though, believe me. On and on.
Considering Krantz’s background (she’s married to producer Steve Krantz and is a longtime resident of the glamorous life), it’s odd she doesn’t have a better ear for dialogue. Through the years I’m sure she’s heard her share of winning conversations.
That, coupled with the happy ending that has Billy paired off in a marriage that comes totally from left field, makes the book less than satisfying. Millions of readers may have wished for more “Scruples,” but “Scruples Two” may not be what they had wished for.
But wait . . . there’s more. The last line of “Scruples Two” promises it’s “To be continued . . . “
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