April 20, 1987 12:00 PM

by John Gregory Dunne

The narrator of this overstuffed new novel by the author of True Confessions is Jack Broderick, a newspaper columnist-turned-screenwriter whose father is a near-billionaire. Jack’s brother is a worldly, highly visible priest. Naturally, with all that money, the family is intimate with the President. Indeed Jack’s sister has an affair with President Fritz Finn. Jack’s mistress is a TV newswoman, but he falls in love with and marries an unpleasant, foul-mouthed young lawyer who tries to open any door that says no admittance and who defends every radical crazy she can find. There is a left-wing movie star, a sweet nun who is raped and murdered in Latin America, a crazy sniper from the Vietnam War, an overbearing movie producer, a teen sexpot, a murdered labor leader and a couple of wildly dangerous black men. Early on Dunne reveals that two of the key characters are going to be killed, but he saves the reasons for this until the end. There are flashbacks and flash forwards, as befits a writer who also does screenplays, and the pace of the manic, electric prose never flags. Dunne wants to shock; the details he provides while describing a murderer’s execution in the California gas chamber are horrifying. But the book is also funny. Many novels have included scenes of Christmas pageants put on by children, but no pageant was ever so irreverent, outrageous and comic as the one described by Jack’s boss. Certain scenes in this book are in fact better than the whole, which by the end seems bloated with incident and preposterous characters. While Dunne’s energy is astounding, was it necessary to cram everything that made the news during the last 20 years into one book? (Simon and Schuster, $17.95)

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