(Reviewed by Judi Clark AUG 05, 2001)
Grace Sorentino has just been fired with the oddest advice.
For the past three years she's worked as a cosmetologist at Saks Fifth Avenue in affluent Palm Beach, Florida. Although, considered semi-skilled with her degree in cosmetology, she's just one more of the working poor, barely able to make ends meet as a single mom. Her one-bedroom apartment in Palm Court is, by any standard, a dump, requiring her teenage daughter to sleep on a studio couch. She's struggling to make car payments and she has no hope for anything to change. In her daughter's assessment she's a loser. Sixteen-year-old Jackie is "too sexually precocious, too manipulative and financially ambitious" for their present living condition, worrying Grace even more as to how she's going to keep her daughter in school and out of trouble, never mind, getting her into college. Basically life is passing her by with no prospects for a mate or a better paying job. And doing the best she can is, in Jackie's eyes, "what hurts most, knowing that this is the best you can do."
Then on this particular day, "Mrs. Milton-hyphen-something" and her unlimited funds stops at her cosmetic counter for a makeover. Try as she might, Grace is unable to camouflage the wrinkles and any attempt at an explanation comes off as arrogance or rudeness. So when the telephone rings after her customer leaves, she knows its Mrs. Pamela Burns, the store manager. Mrs. Burns hasn't a choice but to fire Grace, since Mrs. Milton-Dennison spends nearly a million dollars a year and wants Grace gone. But Mrs. Burns can see that Grace's greatest asset can be put to good use. Grace still has a very shapely figure and is a beauty. So Mrs. Burns, in her tell-it-like-it-is style, tells Grace to go hunting for Mr. Big Bucks.
"Find yourself an older wealthy man, a widower, fresh from the burial ground, someone who in his vulnerability can appreciate a good-looking woman like yourself to share his bed and his fortune."
Grace is taken aback as Mrs. Burns lays out the plan as to how one might accomplish ensnaring a rich, preferably Jewish, widower. She's convinced that Mrs. Burns is playing with her and can't be serious, even when Mrs. Burns admits this is how she got her current husband. Taking her generous severance check from Mrs. Burns, Grace heads home for lack of anywhere else to be. Here she's receives one more shock, as she finds Jackie "strenuously engaged in a pretzel-like sexual escapade with a young hard body with a shiny shaved head." Basically Jackie has traded her body with this swatiska wearing, knife carrying, skinhead, for a month of rides to school on his motorcycle, blaming it on her mother for not buying her a car.
Feeling a complete failure as a parent and a role model, Grace begins to think about Mrs. Burns' advice. Perhaps she should try to work her and Jackie out of this economic down swirl. But when she finally identifies and meets her target, things don't work out exactly as prescribed. For one thing, she's supposed to think about this as a business transaction and leave her heart out of it.
Adler writes this novel from two perspectives, that of Grace Sorrentino and from that of Sam Goodwin, alternating as appropriate. He easily gives motivation to Grace in presenting her economic situation and home life. And the details of her escapade, from start to finish are intriguing, as well as making us anxious each time Grace tells another pack of lies to Sam. Sam, on the other hand, is a grieving widower and sincerely misses Anne, whom he eulogizes as "beautiful, vivacious, giving, a loyal and faithful wife, a cherished pal..." As much as he and Anne had the appearance of the perfect marriage, Sam has his secrets. And he is fast becoming grateful to Grace for her presence.
Adler's style is light, darkly humorous, but also obsessive. He has Anne and Sam repeat many of their thoughts over and over. While reading it, I questioned the need, but in hindsight I see that this style brings out the deeper truth and honesty by enabling all facets of the emotion to be explored. It is also what ingrains this story to memory. Whereas some writers might stall with the technique, Adler maintains forward momentum throughout the entire novel.
I like Mourning Glory for the same reasons that I like Random Hearts. Adler sets up a scenario and then plays it out exploring the inner workings that go on within each of the two main characters. In Mourning Glory he begins with the initial proposition outlining the methodology in which a woman could find "Mr. Big Bucks," as well as exploring what would make a woman do this. But then he takes it further asking what would happen if a man finds happiness with a woman who set out to bilk him? What exactly is an honest relationship? How does one know the real thing? Just maybe finding love during the grieving period is not as wrong as outward appearance would have it. But then again, can lies be reconciled to any good? Adler gets at the emotional logic of relationships letting us feel the privacy of what goes on between two people.
- Amazon readers' rating: from 26 reviews
Read an excerpt from Mourning Glory at the author's website(back to top)
(Reviewed by Judi Clark NOV 26, 1990)
Now here's an interesting premise. Two people are having a discreet affair. Not a soul in the world knows about them, nor even suspects. To have some treasured time together and sort out their future, they plan a four day get away to the Florida Keys. They each tell their respective, trusting spouses that they are going on business trips. He says he'll be taking the Concorde to Paris; she says she'll be at a fashion show in California. As planned, they board the flight headed for Miami using the alias of Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Marlboro. During take off the plane crashes, killing all on board. No one misses them for four days.
Meanwhile, the crash investigation team is pulling bodies and accounting for the passenger list until at last they discover the real identities of the Marlboro couple. So what should the crash investigator say to the respective spouses when he finally puts together the pieces of the puzzle? Can they be protected from the truth when a Federal Investigation is bound to look into the surviving spouses motivations? Once known, how does each spouse handle the betrayal? And the really big question: how is it that they didn't know about their spouses betrayal?
I read Random Hearts about six weeks ago and with this much elapsed time was just going to let the review slip by. After all, it's not a book I would normally purchase. I received it in the mail by someone associated with the book and began the book as a dutiful read. But then one page lead to another page and so on until I was so involved I had to finish it. The book is not deep, the language is not outstanding, but the characters and their emotions are lasting. This book will not leave me alone. Adler does an incredible job of striking so deep with the sense of betrayal that he ultimately gets to the core of love.
I recommend reading Random Hearts. It's quick but worth it. And I definitely recommend the book over the movie. I have not seen the movie and the movie is not at all accurate to the book, nor does it offer the depth of exploration, though, to its credit it does recreate the mood of the book. Probably what Adler does best with Random Hearts is to have the only motivation for the two surviving spouses is their need to get at the truth - just a basic need to know. And the motivation works since Adler so skillfully gets at the issue of trust and the breaking of that trust. He also succeeds in the randomness of life and love and finally forgiveness. Briefly, while reading the book, I tried to imagine Harrison Ford playing the role of Edward Davis. Since it didn't fit and it didn't improve the book, I dropped the visuals. It is a shame that they didn't make a movie of this book.
- Amazon readers' rating: from 18 reviews
Read an excerpt from Random Hearts at the author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Options (1974) republished as Undertow (April 2001)
- Banquet Before Dawn (1976)
- The Henderson Equation (1976)
- Trans-Siberian Express (1977)
- The Sunset Gang (1977)
- The Casanova Embrace (1978)
- Blood Ties (1979)
- Natural Enemies (1980)
- The War of the Roses (1981)
- Random Hearts (1984)
- Twilight Child (1985)
- We're Holding the President Hostage (1986)
- Madeline's Miracles (1990)
- Private Lies (1991)
- The Housewife Blues (1992)
- Never Too Late for Love (1995)
- Jackson Hole - Uneasy Eden (1997)
- Mourning Glory (August 2001)
- Cult : A Novel of Brainwashing and Death (October 2002)
- The Children of the Roses (April 2004)
Fiona Fitzgerald Mysteries:
- American Quartet (1981)
- American Sextet (1983)
- Immaculate Deception (1991)
- Senator Love (1991)
- The Witch of Watergate (1992)
- The Ties That Bind (1994)
Movies from books:
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- Warren Adler's official Web site
- BookPage interview with Warren Adler
- Behind the scenes: Disaster Mortuary
- Writers Write review of Mourning Glory
- TheBookHaven.net review of Mourning Glory
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About the Author:Warren Adler was born in Brooklyn, New York and graduated from New York University with a degree in English literature. After graduation he attended writing classes at the New School in New York, where his classmates included Mario Puzo, William Styron, among others. After graduating from NYU, Adler worked for the New York Daily News before becoming the editor of the Queens Post, a prize-winning weekly Long Island newspaper. His column, "Pepper on the Side," was widely syndicated. Serving in the Army during the Korean War, he was the Washington Correspondent for Armed Forces Press Service in the Pentagon. His by-line went out all over the world and appeared in every publication put out by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
Prior to becoming a novelist, Adler had a distinguished business career. He owned four radio stations and a TV station, ran his own public relations and advertising agency in Washington, D.C., and co-founded Washington Dossier magazine with his wife and son.
Warren devoted every morning of his entire business career to his writing, rising at 5:30 am and writing for 4 hours before going to work. When his first novel was published in 1974, he gave up all interest in business to become a full time novelist, which he has been doing ever since.
Adler has published twenty-four novels that have been translated into more than twenty languages. A collection of his short stories, The Sunset Gang, was adapted for a PBS American Playhouse trilogy. The box-office hit turned classic, The War of the Roses, was adapted from his novel. Hollywood paid $1.2 million for Private Lies, one of the highest prices ever paid. Trans-Siberian Express was also sold to the movies. Unfortunately, by the time Random Hearts was made into a movie, Hollywood had rewritten the script so that it didn't reflect the original novel. Lifetime Television is currently poised to produce a series based on his popular mystery character Fiona Fitzgerald, a blueblood-turned-urban homicide detective on the Washington, D.C., police force.
When he is not writing, Mr. Adler lectures on creative writing, motion picture adaptation and the future of Electronic Books. He is the founder of the Jackson Hole Writer's Conference and has been Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Jackson Hole Public Library one of the most important libraries in the west. He is married to the former Sonia Kline, a magazine editor. He was three sons, David, Jonathan and Michael and divides his time between New York City and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.