I'll Be Watching You

Edward Neuert reviews 'I'll Be Watching You' by Victoria Gotti

Published June 16, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

My tastes in beach reading were formed 20 years ago, on the largely manufactured strands of the Jersey shore -- the kind of crowded places where sunbathers lay packed along the sand, the smell of Sea 'N' Ski lotion filled the air, the sound of the flotsam-filled surf competed with the constant murmur of AM radio and every now and then somebody's mom would jump up to yell toward the waterline, "Dom-in-iccc! Come have a crulluhh!" This was no place to quietly read Proust. The ideal beach novel had the nutritional content and edible ease of, well, the average cruller.

Into this realm of sand and sugar comes Victoria Gotti, serving up her new thriller, "I'll Be Watching You." As any kid on the beach from here to Coney Island can tell you, Victoria has the distinction of being the daughter of John "The Teflon Don" Gotti, the convicted former head of the Gambino crime family now serving a life sentence for murder and racketeering. Since publishing her first novel, "The Senator's Daughter," last year, she's made the rounds of TV talk shows telling of her upbringing (in a family she loyally maintains has no connection to the Mob), her life these days in a Long Island mansion and the countless rejections she got from publishers in her quest to become a writer of romantic thrillers. Well, she's arrived, thanks in part to her infamous surname, with a million-dollar contract to write a couple of novels and, so help me, what her publisher describes as a "combination cookbook and family history."

Gotti draws heavily on her personal history in "I'll Be Watching You." It's the story of Rose Miller, an internationally famous writer of thrillers, a resident of a Long Island mansion, the wife of a prominent lawyer and the sometime paramour of a misunderstood mob boss. Into this world enters a homicidal stalker intent on making Rose his next victim, just as life is being enormously complicated by the noisy indictment of said misunderstood mob boss on the eve of Rose's husband's entrance into politics. Pretty standard stuff for this genre -- particularly if you're the daughter of a made man -- and on the face of it a natural for the beach blanket. But with the best writers of frothy fiction -- the Sheldons, Folletts and Clarks -- you sense at least an accomplished technician who knows he or she is reaching down to make a salad of improbabilities and thin characters. Gotti's spent her life in a world of the improbable and now she's reaching up, with not quite the skills of a good writer, to try to make something out of it all.

What results is a novel filled with bad grammar, strangely placed commas, a slew of unnecessary apostrophes and characters who can compete with the mighty sequoia in the wood department. Here's one standout howler: "After successfully completing Evan's first semester at Columbia Law School, his father planned a dinner to celebrate." (Greater love hath no poppa than to endure tort lectures for his offspring: Eat hearty, Dad.) Doesn't anybody at Crown publishing read this stuff before they send it to the printer?

It's not a high art to write a good potboiler, but it's an art nonetheless. Gotti needs fewer million-dollar contracts and -- if she's not going to stick to the cookbook business -- a few more lessons in craft. You have to hand it to her, though. Unlike her dad, she's found a way to make a tidy profit in the trash business, and the feds can't touch her.

By Edward Neuert

Edward Neuert lives and writes in northern Vermont. He is a regular contributor to Salon Books.

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