Sunday, May 28, 2006

#42 - Elements of Style

Similar in tone and story to Jay McInerney's The Good Life, playwright Wendy Wasserstein's Elements of Style follows the intertwining lives of some upper crust New Yorkers after 9/11. But unlike McInerney's novel, I quite enjoyed Elements of Style; it's an easy reading kind of novel, perfect for a Sunday morning, sort of like a fictionalized version of Friends With Money. In fact, I think even though the storylines are so similar, Wasserstein's novel comes out ahead because it's got hat heart that was sorely lacking in McInerney's book.

Each chapter is from the point of a view of a different characters, each representing a different sector of life in the Upper East Side of New York. From old money socialites like Samantha, to newly minted ones like Judy Tremont, the lifestyles of the rich and famous are represented with Wasserstein's keen ear for satire, comedy and reality. The book opens and closes with Dr. Frankie Weissman, a pediatrician to the stars, whose own father is succumbing to Pick's disease, and slowly evaporating before her eyes.

Frankie is the heart of the story, the character who ties everyone together, and the reason why the novel works. She's an earnest, good person whose success comes from hard work, something rare to be seen in typical chicklit (damn you Plum Sykes, damn you! [and I'm not talking about Gemma and her ilk either]}. Yet, writing these totally relatable, completely compassionate (as the book jacket tells me, thanks John Guare) characters seems to be Wasserstein's forte. Even the cruelest, most callous woman in the book has a human edge to her, and that takes talent.

I remember, years ago, being in New York and seeing The Heidi Chronicles with Christine Lahti. I was young, in high school, and all I remember about the play was coming away with how strong the main character was, how she just dealt with life as it was, life (if that makes any sense). That's the kind of plain truth that Wasserstein brings to the novel, to a world full of people who take the idea of "Turkusion" seriously (a dinner party theme meant to be a mix of Turkish, English and Asian influences, so ridiculous, so funny, so perfect), there's that sense that reality will eventually catch up to them and of course, much to my delight, it does.

1 comment:

scarbie doll said...

Ah kinda like "Doglaki" -- sounds like my kinda woman. So sad she is no longer on this planet.