August 01, 1988 12:00 PM

by Belva Plain

Here is a novel with “miniseries” written all over it. This is not a compliment. Tapestry starts in the mid-1920s, taking up where Plain’s Evergreen and The Golden Cup left off. It centers on Paul Werner, scion of an investment banking family, “an attractive man with a strong narrow frame and an aquiline face; when he was animated he looked younger than his years.” Paul, however, is rarely animated. He is in a passionless marriage to Marian, who is unable to bear children. Worse, she can’t evoke the ardor Paul feels for Anna, the ex-housemaid he didn’t marry due to status considerations. Worse still, Paul learns he has a daughter by Anna: “It was unreal and yet it was true…His daughter. His. Brought up and nurtured by another man, by the innocent husband…because it had to be that way…because he had promised never, never to try to see Anna or the child.” Paul has affairs with Use, a doctor he meets in Germany before World War II, and with his high-style, high-spirited, widowed cousin Leah. Yet he continues to love Anna and tolerate the whiny Marian. Let’s face it: Paul is a jellyfish. Yes, yes, he’s honorable in business, noble (he risks his life helping Jews flee Hitler’s Germany), a strong shoulder for various family members to lean on (“Paul, you’ve carried the weight of other people’s troubles on your shoulders as long as I’ve known you,” Leah tells him). But he’s a jellyfish just the same. Since Anna makes only one significant appearance in this novel, those who haven’t read Evergreen or The Golden Cup can’t know or care why Paul is in such a helpless haze. And since Marian is portrayed so unsympathetically, it’s impossible to understand why Paul chooses to stay with her. It doesn’t help that Plain is given to such observations as “There is between them the unmistakable tidal pull of sexual allure, as palpable as a sudden gust of tropical air,” and “Money began to circulate as fast as blood in the arteries of a long distance runner.” This Tapestry is threadbare. (Delacorte Press, $18.95)

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