January 24, 1994 12:00 PM

by Marilyn French

Stephen Upton is one of the richest and most powerful men in America, the kind of gentleman who dines with senators and dallies with their wives. But when he is felled by a stroke, it is his four daughters—half-sisters born of four different women—who move into his Massachusetts mansion, ostensibly to succor him.

Sucker! It soon becomes apparent that this is one severely dysfunctional family. The daughters, who couldn’t be more different in terms of upbringing, career and social altitudes, have one thing in common: They despise dear old dad. Upton has behaved corruptly, immorally and despicably to each of them; as he lies helpless and mute, they get even.

French, a best-selling author (The Women’s Room, The Bleeding Heart) with a penchant for melodrama, touches all the topical p.c. bases: feminism and competitiveness, mother-daughter relations, sexual abuse. There are sparks of originality here—most notably in the character of Ronnie, Upton’s illegitimate daughter by his Mexican maid—but they are often undercut by ridiculous set pieces, such as the daughters’ moek trial of their failing father. French makes important, but obvious, points—most of which the reader will have grasped long before the last of these 450 pages. (Little, Brown, $22.95)

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