THE CHAMELEON by Sugar Rautbord


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Another fat letter stuffed with fashion tips and consumer- paradise cultural suggestions from Chicago socialite Rautbord, whose Sweet Revenge (1992) led us into her world of big spenders. Her newest is more serious, with vague echoes of the life of Clare Booth Luce. Rautbord here retails a Cinderella story of fatherless Claire Organ, the chameleon of the title, and her numerous wealthy princes whose gilded coaches never turn into pumpkins at midnight but only add to her personal wealth and power. Claire’s abandoned mother, Violet Organ, a dreamy-eyed, shy saleswoman at Marshall Fields in Chicago in 1924, gives birth to Claire in the Fine Dress Department “amid the pearl necklaces, silk lingerie, high-fashion shoes, and women’s fancy custom apparel directly beneath Louis Comfort Tiffany’s grand mosaic dome.” Her arrival on Christmas Eve makes the Tribune’s front page, and Claire becomes something of a ward of the store, spending her childhood compiling an encyclopedic knowledge of every top-quality brand name in each of its departments, including furniture. Violet becomes the store’s top fashion expert for high-society weddings, an elevation that eventually leads to Claire’s leap into Tuxedo Park high-society when she marries young William Henry Harrison V (“Harry”), a pilot who, after Pearl Harbor is bombed, is shipped to the South Pacific while Claire has his baby. When Harry’s father becomes head of the War Production Board in Washington, Claire joins him as his assistant and shows her savvy for getting war matÇriel to the right sectors and, later, for helping him carry out the Marshall Plan. Successive lovers or husbands include her father-in-law, Harrison (who fathers her star-crossed second child), a nasty Italian shipping bigwig (who gets speargunned!), a Jewish movie producer, and a newspaper publisher. Celebrities from Claire’s various eras help enliven an ever- smooth, sandalwood soaper with class stamped all over it. Quite dreamy, with mild dips into sex—real sugar all the way.

Pub Date: May 4th, 1999
ISBN: 0-446-52187-6
Page count: 528pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1999