Jackie Su­sann redux?

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - Joal Ryan Ryan is the author of “For­mer Child Stars: The Story of Amer­ica’s Least Wanted.”

Price­less

A Novel

Ni­cole Richie

Atria: 294 pp., $24.99

So, OK, the first prob­lem with Ni­cole Richie’s sec­ond novel, “Price­less,” is that you took, or mis­took, ac­tu­ally, its open­ing chap­ters — set­ting up the tale of an Amer­i­can princess re­cently re­turned from Parisian ex­ile to her hand­some, de­voted Wall Street king of a fa­ther — as a prom­ise of an update on Jac­que­line Su­sann’s “Once Is Not Enough.”

So, OK, this isn’t the book’s prob­lem. This is your prob­lem. And even so, would it have been fair to ex­pect Richie to con­coct some­thing as ba­nanas as Su­sann’s Elec­tra-com­plex-tothe-max soap? (And hon­estly, it wouldn’t have been ad­vised. One rit­u­al­is­tic rape scene in a Pol­ish nun­nery is quite enough.)

As it turns out, the act of judg­ing, or mis­judg­ing, ac­tu­ally, is what con­cerns Richie here. See, our Amer­i­can princess, name of Char­lotte Wil­liams, is, un­der­neath all the vin­tage-cou­ture la­bels and bravado, just a girl stand­ing in front of the world, ask­ing to be loved. Ah, but it’s not easy for the world to love her back — not af­ter her fa­ther is re­vealed to be a new-and-im­proved ver­sion of Bernie Mad­off, a swindler just the same al­beit with a greater ca­pac­ity for guilt and a more sym­pa­thetic back story (the poor guy, read­ers are told, felt so bad af­ter Char­lotte’s beau­ti­ful mother died that he just didn’t care any­more!).

With Char­lotte’s fa­ther jailed, Char­lotte be­comes the pub­lic face of the scan­dal, and as such, a tar­get. Lit­er­ally. (The blood­thirsty Su­sann her­self might have had to ad­mire the sheer num­ber of times Char­lotte gets punched, spat at and oth­er­wise at­tacked.) Cut off from her fam­ily, fake friends and bank ac­count, Char­lotte does what ev­ery shal­low rich kid does — she heads to New Or­leans, camps out on the couch at her for­mer nanny’s and takes a job wash­ing dishes.

So, OK, the sec­ond prob­lem with Richie’s novel is that its “Sim­ple Life” de­tour doesn’t ring true mi­nus the ar­ti­fi­cial con­straints of, well, a cer­tain re­al­ity show whence its author came. Then again, Richie’s hero­ine, as writ­ten, wouldn’t ring true if she’d signed up for a char­ac­ter-build­ing TV-show chal­lenge. Char­lotte wants only to be her­self and find her­self and, oh, yes, cap­ti­vate with a sing­ing voice straight out of No­rah Jones. Or “Glit­ter.” Or some­thing or some­one equally im­plau­si­ble.

So, OK, the third prob­lem with “Price­less” is that it’s a lit­tle bit ba­nanas, which, as you’ll re­call from our “Once Is Not Enough” dis­cus­sion, doesn’t have to be a prob­lem. Richie’s point­edly wit­tier than Su­sann, who pro­duced laughs of the un­in­tended va­ri­ety (not that there’s any­thing wrong with that — en­ter­tain­ment’s en­ter­tain­ment). She’s more op­ti­mistic than Su­sann too, al­though that’s not to her story’s ben­e­fit. Af­ter some brief, ghoul­ish fun at the Grove — no, Richie can’t stay away from her Los An­ge­les home for­ever — ev­ery­thing gets tied up neatly enough for a Danielle Steel tale, which may well have been the point.

The sus­pi­cion here is that Richie can be much more than a con­ven­tional drama queen. She’s got the in­gre­di­ents. Now to get those ba­nanas re­ally cook­ing.

Carlo Al­le­gri

NI­COLE RICHIE: A sec­ond-time nov­el­ist.

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