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Plucking the Apple
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With an impeccable blend of empathy and mocking wit, Palmer (Scarlet Angel) delivers a novel of high-society slapstick that is nearly impossible to put down. The trouble-and the abundance of delightful wickedness-stems from the chic summer dinner party thrown by Victoria and James Harting, owners of that trendy London exhibition space known simply as ``The Gallery.'' Chosen from Victoria's wide acquaintance with the bright and privileged social stratum she calls the ``glitterarty,'' the guest list includes Jack Carey-The Gallery's star artist-and his capable, serene-seeming wife, Ellen. Also invited are narcissistic, compulsively adulterous Tessa, her jealous husband, Alexander, and Ginevra, Victoria's frumpy but brilliant university chum. During the evening, Jack initiates his affair with Tessa, while Ellen establishes a tentative friendship with awkward Ginevra. Brief, snappily written scenes trace the events of the next few months: As voracious Tessa becomes more of a challenge than Jack ever imagined, Ellen-chafing against the confines of her marriage-struggles to find a role more meaningful than being her egotistical husband's caretaker. Meanwhile, Ginevra-living in isolated squalor-nurses her unrequited love for James and slides slowly into vengeful, self-destructive madness. Perhaps the novel's pièce de résistance is the wildly disastrous opening night of Jack's long-awaited art show-but that's only one of the many hilarious, acutely observed scenes that pepper this savvy and highly literate romp. (Oct.)

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