ELEMENTS OF STYLE by Wendy Wasserstein


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In her first and only novel, the recently deceased Wasserstein (Shiksa Goddess, 2001, etc.) chronicles the lives, loves and sartorial choices of Manhattan’s moneyed class.

Frankie Weissman is the Upper East Side’s favorite pediatrician. Samantha Acton is a beauty with an impeccable pedigree. Judy Tremont is a spunky social climber. Barry Santorini is a movie producer who never misses a chance to remind people that he was once a poor kid from South Philly and that he’s rich and powerful now. These are just a few of the well-to-do Manhattanites in this overpopulated book. Unfortunately, no character is given sufficient space to develop as a real person, and there’s no strong narrative perspective to turn any of the stories into more than the sum of their parts. There are a few moments of sharply observed detail—Judy Tremont’s favorite snack is “four soybeans, for protein, and a chocolate chip, for fun”—but they’re few and far between. The story veers between the tragic and the trivial in a way that is merely disharmonious rather than revelatory. Frankie’s father’s Alzheimer’s sits in uneasy juxtaposition with dissections of who’s wearing what at a benefit gala. Characters occasionally mention the anxieties of living in post-9/11 New York, but the main impact of that event seems to be spending a Christmas in Palm Beach instead of traveling abroad. A deadly bomb attack on a Starbucks comes off as gratuitous. Ultimately, the reader is presented with notes toward a novel rather than being a completed one. Is this a farcical send-up of New York’s elite, or is it earnestly sympathetic women’s fiction? The reader never knows, because the author doesn’t either.

This will not be remembered as an important part of the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright’s oeuvre.

Pub Date: April 24th, 2006
ISBN: 1-4000-4231-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2006