A frivolously obtuse protagonist, determined to live as she pleases, romps through the 20th century.
Mustard heiress Poppy Minkel is willfully ignorant, bent on pleasure, and insensitive—to her children, her help, even her religion (Judaism). Not very promising heroine material, though Poppy is also an original in everything from her clothes to her hobbies (she learns to fly), with liberated ideas about sex and a career. She narrates her own story, which moves from her native New York to Paris and the English countryside, then back to NYC as she charges through life with dizzying speed and little thought. Poppy begins as the news comes that her wealthy father has gone down with the Titanic. His grieving widow immediately abandons the search for a husband for their adolescent offspring, and Poppy remains reluctantly housebound until WWI, when mother and daughter head out to do voluntary work. Next, while working for fun at Macy’s, Poppy meets impoverished writer Gilbert Catchings. They marry and have a daughter, Sapphire, who gets left home with Poppy’s sister Honey when the couple move to Paris. The Depression affects relatives, but not Poppy, still fabulously wealthy, who ditches Gilbert for Reggie, an Englishman with tenuous ties to the royal family, an English manor, and a daughter. Soon widowed, Poppy returns to Paris, blissfully unaware of the advancing Germans, from whom she barely escapes. Back in New York, she continues to shock her conservative kin by opening an avant-garde art gallery, dressing flamboyantly, and behaving unsuitably. Deaths in the family rarely set her back as her artists flourish, discreet nips and tucks keep her looking good, as do great clothes.
Old age makes Poppy more reflective but not by much: mostly diverting mind candy.