Books April 2006

New Fiction

Finds and Flops
More

Satire is a risky enterprise—a writer who falters can abruptly become a target, worthy of spoofing. Wendy Wasserstein's zippy but ultimately disappointing lampoon of Manhattan's trendsetters opens immediately after 9/11, when her insulated characters, mainly women in their forties who've acquired Pilates-perfect bodies and other "yumbo" accoutrements, confront their burgeoning "security anxiety." Judy Tremont, Wasserstein's comic centerpiece, manages the threat of terrorism with trademark efficiency: she pops Ativan, sports a Fendi emergency kit full of Cipro, and wears lavish jewelry in case she must "trade it for easy passage off Manhattan." But Judy's deepest desire—entrée to society's A-list—eludes her until she finally befriends the preternaturally stylish Samantha Acton.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Wasserstein, who died in January at age fifty-five, has written a play in novel's clothing, concocted from biting dialogue, endless costume changes, sight gags that probably would work better on stage, and the killing off of unwanted characters with Shakespearean dispatch. At the heart of Wasserstein's social critique lies the same intriguing paradox Henry James explored: those with old money, sophistication, and polish are attracted to the raw energy (the vulgarity, even) of society's nakedly aspiring climbers. Thus Samantha appreciates Judy's persistence, while Judy's ineffectual husband, Albert, delights in his daughter's acquisitiveness: "Charlotte wanted Prada and Juicy Couture with a passion that he had for very little, except maybe fine port."

Wasserstein stumbles when Frankie Weissman, an appealing pediatrician (and a double, one suspects, for the author), confesses a "sense of accomplishment that after thirty years she was finally invited to the cool girl's table." Any satirist who evokes the adolescent hierarchy with such dewy fondness veers dangerously close to self-parody. Wasserstein should best be remembered for her energetic early comedies, such as Uncommon Women and Others.

Elizabeth Judd is a writer in Washington, D.C.
Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In