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SKIN-DEEP IS DEEP ENOUGH KRANTZ'S PEN STRIKES A MINE OF PURE GLITZ

DAZZLE
By Judith Krantz
Crown
502 pages, $21.95

JAZZ KILKULLEN is, of course, beautiful.
And, naturally, she is rich and accomplished, though she started out with nothing. In the end, as expected, she marries a wonderful man who is even richer than she, and they have many, many possessions and two fulfilling careers.

So it goes in the world of Judith Krantz. It is deeply reassuring to know that in this, her sixth blockbuster novel, everything is as it should be.

In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Krantz puzzled over the strange expectations she sometimes encounters: "People think that I'm harboring some slim little intellectual volume, that I am really Isaac Bashevis Singer in disguise."

Fat chance. Krantz found a winning formula with her 1978 novel "Scruples," which went straight to No. 1, and she has shown no signs of abandoning it. Her first five books sold 60 million copies in 30 languages; all were made into television miniseries.

"Dazzle" is certain to follow suit.

It has the classic Krantz heroine -- feisty but vulnerable, good-hearted and gorgeous -- who is, in this case, a world-famous celebrity photographer.

It has the requisite hardships for the heroine to rise above -- in this case, a dead mother, two evil stepsisters and the whole world's greed for California real estate. (Much of the plot revolves around the very '90s topic of Orange County land use. Jazz Kilkullen, all will be pleased to know, favors slow growth, and she puts her money where her mouth is. There's more to admire in this woman than her "tawny plumage of golden brown hair that looked amber in some lights and chestnut in another.")

It has sex -- plenty of it, and in full detail. And more than all that, it has Things -- very expensive clothes, mostly. Krantz novels are obsessed with apparel; shopping for it and wearing it are given sensual, almost erotic, treatment. There is an especially lush scene set in South Coast Plaza, the chichi Southern California shopping mall:

"The two women entered the shop and circled around with the narrow-eyed, radar-like, concentrated gaze of expert shoppers, a look that keeps equally experienced sales people from approaching them too quickly. Women like these two, the Dunhill salesman knew, didn't want to be interrupted until they saw something they liked, and then, at that very instant, they would expect to be waited on. . . . What's more, from the way they were both dressed, in those easy, flapping, slouchy, on-the-verge-of-sloppy trousers, vests and jackets that screamed genuine Armani, they'd only want the very best." They then proceed to drop great wads of cash -- well, actually, no cash ever changes hands. All is plastic.

No Krantz opus is complete without this homage to designer dry goods. There has been the occasional feminist critic who sees the winning formula -- especially this aspect of it -- as a bit unhealthy.

"We live in a culture where lots of women feel very empty," writes Madonne Minor. "And what they love is talk of material culture. They love talk of shopping sprees. They love detail. Repetitive romance novel reading is what fills up those empty fantasy spaces."

Maybe so. But then, there are lots of men who use football to fill up their empty spaces. And romance novels are so much more affordable than season tickets. Besides, nobody gets hurt.

Krantz, it's clear, is not about to question these needs. She's just here -- again -- to satisfy them.

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