December 02, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

The Memory Book of Starr Faithfull

Current Status
In Season
Gloria Vanderbilt
We gave it a B

In 1917, there really was a girl named Starr Faithfull; she really was 11 at the beginning of her affair with her cousin, a mayor of Boston; and she really did die mysteriously at age 25. Some of Starr’s real letters are quoted here, but most of this novel is Vanderbilt’s creation. We follow, shuddering, as prepubescent Starr is introduced to ether (which she calls ”creamy dreamy”), writes on her 21st birthday that ”from now on I’ll be sane and worthy of being loved,” and pathetically makes lists of conversation topics so she can fascinate her dinner date. Unfortunately, details sink under Vanderbilt’s gush (Starr doesn’t merely hold a man’s hand, she ”squashy-squeez(es) his fingers”). Still, Starr’s real history survives such effusions. In Vanderbilt’s final entry, Starr — whose battered body washed up on a beach in 1931 — fears drowning only because her life might pass before her: ”Oh God — to be forced to live it over again.” B

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