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Lily White Hardcover – July, 1996
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Susan Isaac's seventh novel is the first story of Lee White, a criminal lawyer on Long Island ensnared with a con man accused of murder. Lee is a privileged, Jewish baby-boomer, whose parents changed their name to White before her birth and then named her Lily. Her family's rise to unhappiness is directly related to their rise to affluence, and Lily tries repeatedly to liberate herself to prove herself as a wife, a daughter, a parent, and a lawyer. Though she struggles with self-doubt, Lily's strength comes from her ability to acknowledge vulnerability and overcome it. As she unravels the truth, she faces some difficult family truths and solidifies her belief in herself.
From Publishers Weekly
Marjorie Morningstar meets Nancy Drew in Isaacs's latest, which succeeds as both a coming-of-age story and a legal thriller. Her wit honed by familiarity with two milieus she knows well, Isaacs creates a character who moves between the conspicuous consumption of upwardly mobile and dying-to-be-assimilated Jews on Long Island and the criminal justice system (Isaacs's husband is a well-known attorney), where a successful trial lawyer sometimes must defend unsavory clients. These spheres are joined in Lily White, nee Lily Rose Weiss, who narrates the sections of the novel that deal with her defense of oily con man Norman Torkelson and her suspicions that his gorgeous girlfriend actually committed the crime for which he is charged, the murder of a "mark" whom he had fleeced out of thousands of dollars by promising to marry her. Running in tandem are chapters that describe Lily's self-absorbed parents' rise in the world and the ludicrous ways in which they try to fit into WASP society. It's especially ironic that when Lily weds super-WASP Jasper "Jazz" Foster, whom she has adored from childhood, the marriage succumbs to pressures that arise as much from class differences as they do from character. Irony succeeds irony when Jazz declares himself in love with Lily's sister, Robin, Lily's complete antithesis. If it sometimes seems that these parallel narratives should have been two different books, most readers will bond with Lily and gladly switch back and forth between the stages of her life. For on one level, Isaacs has created a pitch-perfect social satire; on another, while the suspense is never spine tingling, she has written a psychological thriller whose portraits of an amoral conman and his mate, of the dehumanizing effects of the prison system and of the stages of a criminal investigation are rendered with snappy authenticity. Literary Guild and Doubleday $250,000 main selections; ad/promo; simultaneous audio; author tour; rights: William Morris Agency.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
I made myself finish it, but was disappointed. It just didn't do that much for me.
The author's slightly sardonic tone works well here and drew me in from the first sentence. How refreshing to identify with a novel's character because she is FALLIBLE in many all-too human ways. The author also deftly meshes the current story with an engrossing and wonderfully written backstory then brings them together wonderfully at the end.
While the heroine is in truth one of those Danielle Steele characters of beauty, brains, and wealth, it takes you a while to figure that out. Her flaws and dysfunctional history make her believable and enjoyable. I never once wanted to BE the heroine, but I sure enjoyed reading about her. Along the way, Isaacs makes some rather interesting observations of what makes a family and what "family" really means, especially in today's society. What an unusual thing to find in a "mass market paperback."
The story is told in alternating chapters: one chapter in "the present", where Lily (known as Lee) is working as lawyer for a conman accused of murdering one of his marks; and then one in "the past", that tells Lee's life story, from her parents' marriage, her subsequent birth, up until close to the time of the present-day story. Forth and back it goes.
From the get-go, there are intimations of where the conman story is going, and really it's just a matter of how it plays out. Still, even despite knowing, I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. The biography sections were also highly interesting. Lee isn't particularly special, her life isn't exceptionally dramatic-- not to say there's no drama whatsoever-- yet I loved following her story. Isaacs is definitely an author I want to continue reading. Lawyers, huh-- who knew?
Meanwhile, in alternating sections, a third-person omniscient narrator -- an interesting tactic on Isaacs's part -- begins telling us about how Lee came to be the person she is, starting with her grandparents (lower middle class Jewish on her father's side, wealthy Manhattan Protestant on her mother's) and continuing with her father's rise in the New York fur business to self-made millionaire. There's her down-to-earth Grandma Bella, and her high-maintenance little sister, and her father who yearns to be accepted as the old-money WASP he'll never be. And then there's Jazz, literally the boy next door, whom she has had the hots for since she was fifteen. And there's the "man in her life," who turns out not to be who the reader thinks he's going to be, but he's definitely a Good Guy. The story unreels rather slowly but with considerable depth, painting skillful generational portraits, giving you some characters you'll root for, some you'll cringe at, and others you'll despise, but all of them are fully developed and interesting. A book to immerse yourself in.
This book, however, was more character study than murder mystery, in my opinion. The mystery was still there -- with lots of great twists and turns -- some guessable and some not.
But the thing about Lily White, the book and the person, that made me give the novel 4 stars is that I identified with Lee (AKA Lily White). Sure, Lee is an ambitious attorney. Her family (at first I felt I knew too much about them, but this only made the end that much more heartfelt) is nothing like my own (thankfully loving family). The differences are night and day. And yet, there is something there, some part of Lee, that I would bet is in all of us. By the end of the book, I was cursing those who had wronged and conned Lee White, cheering her new beginning at the end and every struggle she had won.
As this book drew toward the end, I could not put it down! And then, when it ended, I wanted to know what was next for Lee White. I could have read another 500 pages. She had become a real person to me, someone I thought of as a friend.
And that, to me, is the mark of a good book.