Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach
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Gossipy, depressing chronicle of ossified Florida high society.

Nonfiction vet Leamer (Fantastic: the Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2005, etc.) moved with his wife to Palm Beach in 1994. Long a miner of celebrity gossip for his books, he found himself sinking deeper and deeper into the snobbish, wealth-soaked milieus of both Palm Beaches—one dominated by Protestants, the other by Jews. The two sometimes meet, but only superficially and rarely without resentment. Selecting from hundreds of potential protagonists, the author settles on about a dozen, alternating their sagas with sweeping observations about what he sees as a unique social setting. Some of the story lines involve suicide, some murder. Most of the rest portray poorly matched couples of wealthy, vain old men and ambitious young women trying either to claw their way to the top of Palm Beach society or to retain their hegemony over it. The overarching theme is that egregious wealth never buys happiness, at least not for long. Leamer injects himself into the narrative frequently. He observes the gala events, sometimes as an invited guest. He becomes a confidant of certain Palm Beach queens and kings—female and male, heterosexual and homosexual, those born rich and those who have married into wealth. To his credit, he almost always uses real names and immediately informs readers when employing a pseudonym. Stars and supporting players alike are either relentlessly mean or utterly hapless. Leamer conveys the bizarre absurdity of it all, as when an exclusive club makes grudging adjustments to its rigid code regarding the physical appearance of guests in order to accommodate members’ tattoo-sporting or bodily pierced grandchildren. Required to place Band-Aids over the offending markings, “a young guest enters the dining room so swathed in bandages that she looks as if she has just left intensive care.”

A professionally reported account, but it’s difficult to imagine an audience other than those with a pre-existing personal interest in Palm Beach.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4013-2291-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Hyperion
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2008


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