Sunday, August 17, 2008

Review: Elements of Style

Elements of Style by Wendy Wasserstein
2.5 stars

Reasons for reading: had been on my TBR list for ages; New York book for Triple 8 Challenge

Book description: Francesca Weissman, an Upper East Side pediatrician rated number one by Manhattan magazine, floats on the fringes of the upper strata of privilege and aspiration. Through her bemused eyes we meet the thoroughbred socialite Samantha Acton; relentless social climber Judy Tremont; Barry Santorini, an Oscar-winning moviemaker accustomed to having his way; his supermarket heiress wife, Clarice; and more, tossed together in a frothy stew of outrageous conspicuous consumption and adulterous affairs that play out on Page Six.

My thoughts: This book felt like Gossip Middle-Aged Women, rather than Girl. While I loved the first Gossip Girl book (and I watch the TV show, I admit it!), it's definitely not appealing behaviour in 40 year-olds. And the post-9/11 setting made it seem really dated, even though it was actually published in 2006. (Perhaps it was written in 2002 but not published til after Wasserstein passed away?) Not that we should forget the tragedy and I know it changed New York forever, but - and feel free to disagree with me - it seems to me that the time for making it a focus of novels has passed. Or maybe it was just this novel.
I'm quite interested in New York's high society, but if these women are its best, my interest may be misplaced. Actually, I've been wanting to read up on turn-of-the-century/early 20th century New York society - anyone know any good nonfiction on this topic?

The Washington Post's review included this: "If we don't feel sympathy for the majority of Wasserstein's characters, their creator would undoubtedly would have said, "Good. You weren't supposed to." " Well, I surely didn't. Even Frankie, the "good" character seems, at heart, very sad and a bit pathetic. The other reviews I skimmed through talked about it being hilarious and satirical, but it just wasn't there for me. There were a few funny, satirical moments, but everyone was so hateful it was hard to be anything but just disgusted by their behaviour.

And the worst part of it for me was what I saw as a complete lack of brightness for the future. Almost every character had died, gotten divorced, or suffered another tragedy by the end and things didn't seem poised to get any better. The only ones who seemed likely to go back to their lives unscathed were still shallow, self-centred, and basically cruel people. Wasserstein tried for a note of hope on the last page with an ill baby being released from the NICU (didn't have anything to do with the rest of the story, so I'm not giving anything away), but it wasn't enough.

This just isn't the best example of the older chick lit/NYC/socialite/bitchiness genre. For love-of-NYC and stylish women, I'd suggest Candace Bushnell and for bitchery I'd suggest Olivia Goldsmith.

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