Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
She's back. In the recent court battle between Collins and Random House, the jury found that Collins had turned in a "complete" manuscript and so could keep her $1.2 million advance. The jury didn't have to decide if the novel was "acceptable," the more stringent criterion most authors contractually face. Dutton, however, has decided that Collins's newest novel, for which it contracted in the spring of 1995, is not only complete but acceptable-but for what? Perhaps for hitting bestsellers lists, by surfing the publicity wave lifted by the trial; certainly not for claiming literary merit. The book, based at least in part on Collins's own life, is a howler. The heroine is Katherine Bennet, star of the prime-time soap The Skeffingtons; the time frame is the late 1980s. Katherine has a host of problems. She must cope with a rummy ex-husband and a rebellious son who's a bit of a jailbird. Though beloved by a nice-guy scriptwriter, she falls hard for a cad of a Frenchman who chases other women, including her on-screen rival, once an abused child. Lurid back-stories pass for plot, and the prose is equally beyond the fringe: "She had curly carrot hair that reminded Barney of the strawberry milkshakes he sorely missed"; "A man with a face like a hungry dog, and a thick ginger toupee, like a dead cat, perched on his head." Collins was dynamite playing villainess Alexis Carrington on Dynasty, but in her latest stab at playing a writer, she flubs nearly every line. Major ad/ promo; Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club selection; author tour. (May)
Collins, wearing her novelist's hat, here writes about what she knows best: trashy prime-time dramas, egotistical stars, and the fawning masses.
Okay, so can she write or can't she? Almost everyone has heard about Collins' recent contretemps with Random House, whose executives claimed that one of her books was so badly written it was unpublishable. (Collins won the suit and didn't have to return her advance.) Dutton must have been writhing with embarrassment, knowing that in just a few weeks, they had their own Collins opus coming out. How bad is it? Actually, as potboilers go, it starts off fairly well. A beautiful, fortysomething prima donna with dark hair and green eyes plays Georgia, "the poison peach" on the hit show "The Skeffingtons". Sound familiar yet? Katherine Bennet has a dying, lowlife ex-husband, a rebellious son, and a professional life that is out of control. Enter Jean-Claude, a charming Frenchman who is willing to take over Katherine's life. Unfortunately for Kitty, Jean-Claude turns out to be a two-timing, embezzling, violent sociopath. Not to worry, though, there's a happy ending. About the time Jean-Claude enters the scene, it seems like Collins gets tired. Tired of trying to tie up loose plot ends, connect scenes in any meaningful way, or provide any motivation for her characters. It's hard to imagine readers persevering to the end of the book. Perhaps that's why there's an epilogue--those two pages tell you all you really need to know. So, can she write? A couple of chapters, maybe, but not a whole novel. The real question is whether one publisher's claim that an author stinks will actually help sell another publisher's book by the same author. Be prepared for the worst.
Last spring, Dutton acquired the US rights to Collins's British bestseller Too Damned Famous, here renamed Infamousa perfectly publishable Hollywood glamour-soap, neither wonderful nor horrible, though having its moments (" `Do it,' said Katherine's inner voice. `Do it, you fool. You've tracked him down all the way to Vegas-what the hell do you want? Have you made a fool of yourself just for a shtup?' ").
Teasing readers with the possibility of a roman à clef, Collins (Love & Desire & Hate, 1990, etc.) makes her heroine a TV superstar, one Katherine Bennet of The Skeffingtons, a successful prime-time soap about a "dysfunctional family" of southern California winemakers. Called Kitty by her friends and the "Georgia poison peach" by an adoring public, Katherine is the actress all America loves to loathe. But in Collins's version (reversing the actual casting on her own real-life, long-running show, Dynasty), Kitty is an American, though the parts of the other two major Skeffs are played by Brits: an older man with ego and toupee problems, and a blond costar (who isn't, naturally, Linda Evans), a nasty, silicone-enhanced former child star who's carrying on a secret mud-slinging publicity campaign against Kitty. Slogging through 14-hour days on the set, eating endless meals of tunafish and rice cakes to stay thin, Kitty negotiates her trials and tribulations with the help of her cellular phone and a huge personal staff: agent, manager, publicist, secretary, maid, maid's husband, etc. Nightly, meanwhile, she bemoans the fact that, though famous, she's also loveless. So Katherine is easy pickings for the sexy sociopath she chooses to marry. How she eludes this homicidal husband (while wearing an 18th-century costume) as he pursues her through the predawn streets of Venice is a camp climax worthy of the Collins oeuvre, onscreen and off.
By turns tedious and silly, with some interesting background on what happens behind the scenes of a TV series.