Lauren Weisberger made her mark on pop culture with her 2003 novel The Devil Wears Prada; a fictionalized version based in part on Weisberger’s experience of working as an assistant to iconoclast Anna Wintour (editor of Vogue magazine). The book was made into a delightful film starring Anne Hathaway as the Weisberger character and Meryl Streep in the Wintour role.
I cannot remember if I read the novel before or after seeing the movie, however my reaction was the film was much, much better. The book served to tick me off in its tone. There was a certain whininess of the main character that is generally reflected by people of privilege who do not see, or seemingly do not understand, they are in fact privileged. I could go on, but overall The Devil Wears Prada left me with the impression that Weisberger was willing to not only burn bridges but throw ex employers under the proverbial bus if it got her a publishing contract. Seriously, if you want to demonstrate the surreal silliness of the fashion industry concentrate on the huge gap between the wages of textile workers and the prices consumers pay for designer duds. Complaining that your boss lady doesn’t give you a heartfelt thank you for getting her morning coffee – cry me a river. Ergo I approached Everyone Worth Knowing with trepidation.
Everyone was a litmus test if literary lightening could strike twice; was Weisberger a writing phenomenon or did she just luck out maiden time at bat? Published in 2005 Everyone was her first novel after Prada. It debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list and faded quickly away. Weisberger’s third novel made the bestseller list, her fourth did not and her fifth was a 2013 sequel to The Devil Wears Prada entitled Revenge Wears Prada which basically insured Weisberger returned to the bestseller list.
Based on her first two novels, Weisberger’s writing style is middling at best. Her characters tend to be one dimensional, especially the ones cast as villains, and the attempts at humor tend to fall flat. It’s like she knows the formula for good chick lit, but has difficulty bringing it home. What she does do well is give outsiders an inside look as to the “glamorous life” of young New Yorkers. These storylines must fall under some sort of subcategory of chick lit – the New York fast life fashionista party girl.
Many reviewers thought Everyone was a rehash of Prada, but I disagree. For instance, the bosses in Everyone Worth Knowing weren’t the real villains, in fact they were secondary characters at best. More importantly though is that I think Weisberger made a real effort to detail the growth of her main character. When Bette Robinson leaves a big PR event, of which she is in charge, because aspects of her life are blowing up at least she owns up that by doing so she was unprofessional. In the big showdown in Paris Prada’s Andrea Sachs simply leaves after telling her boss to “f*** off.”
Both books had elements about the hardship of trying to set priorities between family and friends versus work responsibilities. To Weisberger’s credit she supports the idea of work boundaries and the importance of making time for the people that really matter in our lives. What she does not do well is present the universal dilemma of personal life versus work in a way that makes readers sympathetic to a character attempting to balance both. As silly as it sounds, if you work in PR (a new job your uncle pulled strings for you to get) and part of your employment entails clubbing then your best friend should understand when you have to cut out early from her engagement dinner. After all she is moving to Los Angeles and you aren’t trying to make her feel guilty about her choices.
What I found most interesting about this book is changing attitudes about certain cultural mores. In particular I am talking about using slut shaming as a literary device. Ironically my observation was made due to Weisberger’s one dimensional character development. * SPOILER AHEAD * the baddie in this novel is a woman Robinson knew from her college days who never had any friends and was once caught turning in someone’s work as her own. Abby is described as so ambitious that she skipped her grandmother’s funeral in order to interview for a spot on the university paper. (Hey, maybe she wasn’t that close to her grandma?)
In the novel Abby is an undercover gossip columnist who has been writing observational based semi-truths about Bette. She has painted Robinson as a socialite party girl who is dating New York’s favorite well-connected British attorney “it” playboy. (I do not know why Weisberger made him an attorney when he never seemed to have any lawyer type of obligations.) Although Bette is seen often with the English lothario, she is not actually dating him. In fact she is hard pressed to describe their relationship. Could he possibly be using her as a beard? (Yes.) Despite her annoyance, all of the gossip written about her is making Bette the PR person of the moment.
During the big reveal when comeuppance is served to those that deserve it through the auspices of Page Six, it’s Bette’s birthday when she reads that Abby has been fired from her column for falsifying her resume. Shockingly she is not a college graduate! (Imagine a gossip columnist without a college degree.) The reason she did not graduate was because Abby had an affair with the husband of the university’s Dean of Arts and Sciences. This resulted in the dean telling her to withdraw from school three credits shy of graduating. (Can deans “suggest” a student drop out because said student shagged her husband? That smells like a lawsuit begging to happen.)
The whole segment read awkward primarily because Abby’s downfall is literally labeled a birthday present from one best friend to another. You see Bette’s bestie Penelope found the incriminating info and sent it to whomever was concerned. (Okay, Abby did sleep with Penelope’s ne’er-do-well fiancé, but throughout the novel he is painted as a dog so why the surprise?) Honestly their nemesis came across as a troubled soul and as such a little compassion would not have seemed out of order. Weisberger paints her story heroines as mean girls who are gleeful at the prospect of Abby (a woman who indirectly is responsible for saving one from a bad marriage and another from a career she was destined to hate) starving in the street. Schadenfreude has its place and all, but the fall of a character that has so little going for her feels like an empty victory. Add causal observations about Abby having sex with every member of a university sports team for some forgettable reason (a point that’s only purpose is to drive home the idea she is a slut of the first caliber) and the ending simply feels anti-feminist.
Oddly enough, I recommend (or at least that was my opinion before writing this review) Everyone Worth Knowing if you are in the mood for a summer read. Perhaps I felt more positive about it directly after finishing it because it was better than I was suspecting. I bought it at my local Barnes and Nobel on discount and I feel that I got my five bucks out of the deal. Overall my curiosity is peaked for Revenge Wears Prada.