Orphaned as a young child, Linda McLane lives a life of servitude and physical abuse with her guardians, a stereotypically villainous aunt and uncle. Alarmed by Linda’s plight, a kindly reverend notifies her other aunt, prominent Hollywood actress Vera Sinclair, who promptly whisks Linda away from her dreary English village and off to sunny Los Angeles. On the ocean voyage, Linda begins a transformation from gawky village lass to beautiful sophisticate, a transformation so complete that she finds immediate success as her aunt’s secretary, working toward the older woman’s spectacular comeback. Readers who push through this formulaic beginning and its one-dimensional characterizations will be pleased to find a story of surprising depth and complexity. Pala (MarsFace, 2002) tackles such issues as racism, socioeconomic inequality and sexual abuse with an engaging fervor. While this earnestness sometimes lessens readability—characters are given to extended moralizing speeches, for example—the otherwise lively pace compensates well. Pala keeps the various plotlines moving forward quickly, though this is sometimes at the expense of adequate development; the blossoming romance between Linda and aspiring actor Alejandro Alicante feels especially inauthentic and rushed. Alicante comes perilously close to being a “Latin lover” caricature, though several clumsy scenes in which he discusses literature and psychoanalysis seem designed to portray him as cerebral and enlightened. The books he discusses and other period-appropriate cultural references (e.g., It Happened One Night, King Kong, The Scarlet Empress) enliven the narrative, as do frothy descriptions of parties and socializing. These elements are a nice counterbalance to the serious themes and create a pleasing overall tone that is marred somewhat by erotic scenes that are jarring in their explicit detail. Throughout the novel, effective, if sometimes heavy-handed, use of foreshadowing ensures that the plot twists at the conclusion are plausible but still unexpected. All things considered, this is an enjoyable but unpolished story that doesn’t quite live up to its considerable potential.
A book worth reading from an author definitely worth watching.
Copyright 2011 Kirkus Media LLC. Used with permission. Not for republication in any manner.