December 20, 2010
Everyone Worth Knowing
First published in: 2005
This edition: Downtown Press, 2006
Genre: chick lit
Cover design by Evan Gaffney
Before I got my wisdom teeth removed last month, I already figured I'd be useless, simply curled up on the sofa, with blankets and pillows, stuffing my chipmunk cheeked face with painkillers and custard, wishing I could simply go to sleep and wake up a week later, healed up and sans agony. Reading the day away was the next best thing. So that's what I did. My book of choice was EVERYONE WORTH KNOWING by Lauren Weisberger (followed by LAST CHANCE SALOON by Marian Keyes – to be reviewed later). A light and uplifting read, perfect for someone who had the attention span of a gnat due to discomfort, pain and hunger.
Bette Robinson's job is, well, it's just terrible. Working as a banker is hardly what she imagined herself to be doing when grown up. In an a-typical impulsive moment, Bette decides to quit, and discovers funemployment – the fun of which doesn't usually last long. One can only walk her dog so many times before realizing something needs to change. Luckily, thanks to her uncle, Bette scores a job working for Kelly, who owns one of Manhattan's top PR firms, and gets a taste of the life: parties, nightclubs, celebrities… and being the subject of nasty gossip columns.
The premise sounds pretty typical – young single girl in Manhattan working way up the career ladder while living the life of exclusivity, getting herself (manipulated) into crazy situations. I'm personally growing pretty weary of Manhattan as the back drop for so many of these kinds of books and having the importance of "being someone in New York (and only New York)" stressed all the time.
…there are many similarities to THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, another of Weisberger's books, but I somehow still feel EVERYONE WORTH KNOWING is a tad bit better (and I'm going to be in the minority here) because it seems more successfully satirical.
It's been three years since I've read THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, so I've been racking my brain trying to describe the reason why, but I can't remember feeling as enthusiastic about it as I do with EVERYONE WORTH KNOWING.
In DEVIL, which – as I understand it – is supposed to take a harder stand against "that world" (being based on Anna Wintour and Vogue all), too many names are dropped and brands are mentioned – e.g. product placement – which left me feeling upon finishing that DEVIL is, if anything, one big advertisement. EVERYONE WORTH KNOWING is a little less extreme in defaming the Manhattan elite, and also less extreme in namedropping. It doesn't try so hard either way.
Albeit less than in DEVIL, Lauren Weisberger still plays for both teams somewhat in EVERYONE WORTH KNOWING: what does she want (from us)? To love Manhattan's elite, or hate it? To have it be relevant, or not?
Are we, readers, meant to be in awe at all the celebrities and exclusivity… or have any disgust with the material world justified? Most likely both – Weisberger to me seems to want to please everybody without really taking a clear stand. (I ended my review of DEVIL: "Lauren Weisberger, Choo's your alliance." – I still feel this way.)
Bette for instance has never before heard of a Birkin Bag. I live in a hole in The Netherlands and while I like bags, I don't really give a crap about labels. Even I know what a Birkin Bag is. Then again, several pages later Bette flawlessly describes one man's entire outfit, including his "men's latest orange Pumas".
I would have perhaps been less hard on the author if Bette really knew zilch about Birkin Bags AND orange puma's AND Armani dresses. This was my main problem with DEVIL. The heroine is supposed to be sort of an antagonist against the material world, yet it is made too relevant – it's Prada this, Blahnik that.
It's inconsistent, but consistently so – not 1, but 2 of Weisberger's books have left me feeling this way.
Weisberger's none too kind about Kelly or her employees, having them drink too much, snort whatever can be snorted up their noses and making sure the (fictional) celeb is a complete tool. But they live the life, and Weisberger does glam it up. What's a banker compared to someone in PR, after all?
What makes EVERYONE WORTH KNOWING worth reading is Bette: she helps to make the book more likable. Bette is one of the most lovely characters I've ever "met" in the chick lit genre. She is like a breath of fresh air to me: very sympathetic and sensible enough, swept away in Manhattan's society but never losing herself in it. Bette doesn't sell out, much preferring her beloved Harlequin book club as opposed to hanging out with slimy celebrities.
Yes, Bette lacks initiative and a back bone, but I don't seek a perfect heroine and couldn't help but adore her, which is very important when reading chick lit – for me anyway. I only read the first part of the SHOPAHOLIC series and felt no need to continue it, mostly because Rebecca Bloomwood frustrated me too much.
Bette is in ways someone I can relate to, despite so many life differences. I think her personality just speaks to me.
The sub-story about her friendships with Penelope and Michael is poor though; Penelope's sub-story seems like predictable filler, and Michael fades away into the background.
One point of irritation regards the gay uncle, whose abundant use of "darling" bothers me to no end; it's like he is channeling the ladies of "Absolutely Fabulous", and doing it badly. Add to that his die-hard republican-ism and I can't help but to shout "SERIOUSLY?!" and shake my head.
But the most important sub-story is sweet and successful: there's a lot of chemistry between Bette and her love interest, their story nicely developed. Definitely swoon material, which is also very important for chick lit. Perhaps – together with a likable narrator – even more than an author taking a clear stand.
I just can't help but to think like a critic more and more. Three years of book reviewing has altered the way I read books: while I can enjoy a book for what it is, I do mentally note the best and worst about it. I think about every book and ask myself questions. So this review will probably come across as very critical.
But ask me the question, "did you enjoy reading it?" – I'll answer, yes. Because I really did. Despite the inconsistencies, despite my questioning Weisberger's satirical merits, EVERYONE WORTH KNOWING is a perfectly pleasant read. Dental work or not.
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2011 and beyond.