Wendy Wasserstein,
Elements of Style
(Knopf, 2006)

Wendy Wasserstein's final novel embodies style. The cover is simplistic and gorgeous (even though it is in the overused chick-lit pink). Her photo defies the standard of airbrushed, Sex in the City glamour shots that usually pop up on pink novels; Wasserstein appears genuine and accessible. The novel itself has all the elements of social climbing, shopping, sex and marital trouble that one would expect from pink chick-lit set in New York City, but Wasserstein has created something much greater than a fluffy novel. This is social commentary, a satire full of situational and dramatic irony.

Elements of Style is ostensibly about New York's urban elite. As the reader meets the dozen doctors, dermatologists, producers, businessmen, art dealers and society wives of the novel, however, it becomes clear that all elite are not created equal. All are jockeying for position within society, and the world of personal yachts with half-million raw food New Year's Eve fetes is drastically different from that of the under-dressed celebrity pediatricians who have moral agendas to treat both the elite and the underprivileged. In fact, when planning the perfect dinner party, the planner must agonize over achieving the perfect mix of guests from different celebrity levels, social standings and attractiveness. Then there's old money and new money, and there's money that has class and hires the right designers, while there's clueless money that hires the wrong, overdone designers.

This is undoubtedly one of the funniest novels of the year. I couldn't help but groan when the over-achieving, desperate social climber planned a Turkish-English-Asian fusion party and served foie gras on mint pita with pomegranate molasses. Ugh. These characters are used to going to the front of the line, to the VIP room, so when a major industry magnate is diagnosed with prostrate cancer, he wants to bypass all the crap paperwork and blood samples and just get the doctor to give him some attention and solve his problems. He wants to manage his illness like any business deal, by throwing his foul-mouthed voice, his social standing and his money at it. In the ultimate irony, after a "Ghetto Fabulous" themed movie premiere held in Brooklyn, a celebrity doctor nervously navigates the subway home, judging everyone around him, only to get mugged when he's seconds from home on "safe" Park Avenue.

Wasserstein fills her prose with allusions to Yeats, to Gatsby and the green light, to the Age of Innocence and other literature, and to classic film. Those I could handle, but I thought she was trying a bit to hard to be "literary" when she had a father character in the book read classic Great Books by dead white males to his children every evening. I wanted to tell Wasserstein that she was a serious author, with a seriously good book, and didn't need to throw in one Great Book per chapter just to justify it.

Bravo, Wendy! Your final novel is a memorable way to go out, although it is sad that we won't be hearing any more from this talented author (who passed away just prior to the publication of this novel).

by Jessica Lux-Baumann
8 July 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.