GARISH DAYS by Lynn Caraganis


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A frequent contributor to The New Yorker and The Atlantic, Caraganis combines Jazz Age insouciance with postwar sobriety in this fictional memoir of an elderly woman recalling her salad days as an aspiring flapper. Like Clara Bow's ""It Girl,"" Louise Merrill has that special something. Daring and flirtatious, this plucky 19-year-old charms her way to Paris in 1938, in time to experience the fast-fading ""party feeling"" that defined a generation. After a short apprenticeship in fashion with her Aunt Hattie in Columbus, Ohio--the buyer for a major department store there--Louise boards an elegant oceanliner for a weeklong, transatlantic bash on her way to buy gowns for midwestern matrons. Her fellow ""uninhibited screwballs"" include newlyweds Jean and Ed; two real ""jazz babies"" straight from Fitzgerald; the earthier Dan and Dora, he a man of many connections and she his loony wife; and Harry, the spoiled Yalie whose heart Louise breaks. When Louise arrives in Europe, she takes Paris not quite by storm, and reveals her ""agony of self-consciousness""--her fear of looking like a foolish bumpkin from Ohio. Between shows at the Houses of Chanel, Schiaparelli, and Patou, she falls in love with the handsome Charles de Gainsbourg, the son of a wealthy Jewish manufacturer. And it's only from hindsight, years after the Holocaust counted her first love among its victims, that Louise appreciates the depth of her former ignorance. An abrupt and understated ending to a frothy account of two weeks in ""a fool's paradise."" The textures and cadences of the 30's, unerringly re-created by Caraganis, enhance her brief narrative, which moves with Astairelike grace, and with the brisk wit of a Preston Sturgess comedy.

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 1987
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson