Desert Isle Keeper
Ever since I started reading Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ contemporary romances, I’ve been hearing readers say that they wish she’d return to her days of contemporary fiction. Having read Glitter Baby, I now know why.
Belinda Britton was a star-struck beauty who lived for the sight of a silver screen face and dreamed of the day she might run into her beloved James Dean in a Hollywood drugstore. When a burnt-out Errol Flynn met her at the fashionably seedy Garden of Allah in the mid-fifties, he found a new joy in her innocence. Alexei Savagarin, once of Russian nobility, enjoys a love-hate relationship with Flynn, and the lovely Belinda only intensifies their not-entirely-friendly rivalry. When Flynn begins to tire of Belinda’s charms, he passes her on to Alexei, and despite her own protests, she has to admit she is drawn to the dark and dangerous man.
Still, he’s not a movie star, and thus, almost a non-entity to Belinda. It’s only when she finds herself pregnant with Flynn’s child, alone and penniless, that she accepts Alexei’s offer of marriage – without revealing her condition. He whisks her off to his home in Paris, where they share a relatively idyllic existence until the day he drives her to a convent in the countryside and asks her what she thinks of it. When she responds with confusion, he explains. This is where her bastard daughter will be raised. She will not protest, or tell the world about the child’s true parentage, or she will be cut off from Alexei’s money. And he understands her better than she understands herself. She does not do well alone, without someone else’s money. She never has. She has no choice. She agrees.
In another novel, this would all be backstory, explained briefly in the prologue. However, this is part of the continuous story of Fleur Savagar, who will one day be known as the Glitter Baby, the face of the seventies.
Fleur has been raised in a convent, seeing her mother only a month out of the year. Her father Alexei hates her, has never seen her, and she doesn’t know why. Perhaps it is the fault of Michel, her brother, whom Alexei must love as the son and heir he has longed for. And then everything changes. A photographer captures her spectacular beauty, and the picture appears in all the newspapers: the tucked-away daughter of the elegant Alexei Savagar, financial wizard and Russian royalty, is no deformed creature, no mentally-impaired child, as everyone had assumed. Instead she is a phenomenal beauty, a diamond in the rough.
Alexei is furious, but he knows he has no choice but to acknowledge her. The Savagar name must not be tainted with rumors of illegitimacy. When his beloved mother dies, he brings her to the funeral as one of his own. But he is not prepared for what he sees when he meets Fleur. He is not prepared to find the innocent beauty he has longed for, the perfect mother for his heir, the woman he had thought Belinda to be, before she betrayed him by bearing Errol Flynn’s child. He begins to court her, very subtly, by being the father she has always wanted. Belinda immediately realizes what is going on, and convinces the confused Fleur to run away to New York with her. With the help of a friend and agent, who immediately see Fleur’s potential for modeling, they run to New York. But they can’t outrun Alexei.
The story follows Fleur to America and into her successful modeling career which eventually leads to a movie role, opposite Pulitzer prize-winning playwright and actor Jake Koranda. Belinda, always at Fleur’s side, immediately recognizes Jake for what he is: the new James Dean. Fleur only knows he scares her. And as for Jake, he can’t shake the image of the beautiful innocent who makes him remember what it was like before Vietnam and before his own first love betrayed him.
There is far more to the story, but you’ll have to read it for yourself. The plot is intricate, and the seeming clichés – such as the betrayed hero who doesn’t want to love again – take on new depth and dimension, becoming far more real than stereotypical. The characters are strong and complete; these are people you might know or want to know…or might never want to encounter. The hero and heroine among the most sympathetic I’ve read. Their friends, family, and even enemies show hidden flaws and strengths, as if each character were a gem to be turned in the light, revealing and hiding facet after facet.
The story is one about love, both healthy and unhealthy, but it’s about more than that. It’s also about the fascination, both personal and national, with innocence. Flynn and Alexei share certain tastes: they want Belinda to wear a virginal white nightdress to bed, no make-up, no immodesty. Jake needs for Fleur to be the innocence he lost. Between them all, they may destroy all of Fleur’s innocence entirely.
It’s also about obsession, and dreams. When Belinda and Fleur destroy Alexei’s dreams, he becomes obsessed with destroying theirs. And he is very, very good at doing so. Every character has a dream or obsession. Some are healthy, some not. But everyone has their own raison d’etre. These characters drive the unconventional plot, but are in turn driven by their obsessions. It’s these obsessions that shape the world of the Glitter Baby.
This is not necessarily the most comfortable book I’ve ever read, but it is one of the most engrossing and well-written. The romance comes late, but is just as compelling as most any I’ve read. The characters are so real you feel as if you could touch them. The story is more odyssey than the familiar boy-meets-girl scenario. It’s unconventional, and it’s brilliant. And it’s absolutely a DIK.