Phillips’ debut memoir shadows a young man’s painfully funny initiation into the world of class, style and money in New York City.
As a young professional, Phillips learned the ways and means of high society from Marylou Stern, an elderly socialite he lived with for nearly three years. Marylou, a single lady of means, is initially rather mysterious; as Phillips uncovers more about her, he learns about the city and the complexity of life with or without wealth. His experiences as a young New York City transplant are fraught with mishaps, which can inspire real laughs. Marylou (who lives up to every adjective in the subtitle) and her eccentric friends provide the ultimate New York City education. Phillips’ relationship with Marylou’s housekeeper, Hazel, provides balance to Marylou’s wealthy life. Names (which seem to be fictionalized) sometimes add to the characterizations, exemplified by Marylou’s surname and a persnickety dog called Patience. Glimpses of the not-so-humorous reality of the time—Marylou’s friend dies from AIDS—add depth to the lightness. But as the story progresses, the humor wanes. Ultimately, Marylou meets a sad end, and her life and death go uncelebrated by her son, which drives Phillips back home and into business with his father. Phillips’ writing is clear but basic, peppered with overly detailed descriptions and awkwardly described action amid the short chapters. Each of the 61 chapters begins with a Benjamin Franklin quote, which, while impressive, is unnecessary and at times distracting. The pleasingly sarcastic narrative voice sometimes ventures into cliché. Characterization is often weak, too, because it’s seemingly limited to repetitive qualities—Phillips’ confusion, Marylou’s affluence—and shallow quirks, like Marylou’s mantra: “God bless everyone on the tenth floor.”
An enjoyable, flawed look at upper crust living, perfect for readers fascinated by old money.