A stinging portrait of life among Manhattan’s junior glitterati.
In March 2001, a decade after they met at Brown, three best friends are finding it hard to be 30. Danielle Minkoff is the most established, although her job in TV news largely entails cranking out puff pieces on the dangers of, say, liposuction. Freelance critic Julius Clarke wonders how much longer a hip social life can substitute for a regular income. They’re both strivers from the Midwest, while Marina Thwaite was born into the liberal elite: Father Murray is a crusading journalist, mom Annabel a dedicated social worker. But beautiful Marina is floundering, at sea in the book she’s supposedly writing, about children’s clothing, living with her parents after the breakup of a long-time romance. Their uneasy stasis is disrupted by two new arrivals. Australian Ludovic Seeley, funded by a Murdoch-like mogul to edit a new magazine, The Monitor, latches onto Marina, giving her the confidence to finish her manuscript as well as its glib title, The Emperor’s Children Have No Clothes. College dropout Bootie Tubb, the 19-year-old son of Murray’s sister, arrives from Watertown, N.Y., hoping to learn from his famous uncle how to be an intellectual. Bootie is swiftly disillusioned—unsurprisingly, since Murray’s self-absorption is surpassed only by that of his daughter, one of the most narcissistic characters in recent fiction. Messud (The Hunters, 2001, etc.) deftly paints the neurotic uncertainties of people who know they’re privileged and feel sorry for themselves anyway; she makes her characters human enough so we don’t entirely detest them, but overall, they’re a distasteful bunch. In this shallow world, the enigmatic but clearly malevolent Ludovic is bound to succeed, even though The Monitor’s launch is scuttled by the attack on the World Trade Center. It’s a bit disconcerting to find 9/11 so smoothly integrated into the author’s thematic concerns and plot development—it believably motivates the breakup of Murray’s affair with Danielle—but five years on, perhaps it’s time for this catastrophe to enter the realm of worthy fictional material.
Intelligent, evocative and unsparing.