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All Is Vanity: A Novel Hardcover – October 15, 2002

61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Lifelong best friends Margaret and Letty are in their mid-30s. Margaret has just quit her teaching job to write a novel in Manhattan; Letty, her husband, and her four children are enjoying their first taste of worldly success in Los Angeles. Margaret soon discovers that writing is not as easy as it looks, and Letty finds herself financially over her head in the one-upmanship of L.A. living. Reading Letty's hilarious e-mails, Margaret realizes that a great story is unfolding right in front of her, and she begins a new novel based on her friend's travails. Hungry for more drama in her novel, she pushes Letty deeper and deeper into debt. Christina Schwartz's diabolical All Is Vanity sends up so many different things, you need a list to keep track of them all. Taking a drubbing are: the pretensions of would-be writers ("How many people believe they have a novel fully formed in the backs of their brains ... and are convinced if only they could manage to tear themselves away from much more important work, they would just 'write it up'?"); the consumerist frenzy of L.A. (Letty's realtor tells her that her yard "could be 'emotional' with the right landscaping'"); and, of course, the uses and abuses of female friendship. Schwartz, author of the bestseller Drowning Ruth, draws us in with farce, then changes course and gives us a bittersweet indictment of personal ambition. In the process, she shows herself as a writer both compassionate and hilariously cruel--no mean trick. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

The die was cast for Margaret and Letty back when they were childhood friends, in Pasadena, Calif. "Even in our games, she was always Robin to my Batman, Watson to my Holmes, Boswell to my Johnson," the grown-up Margaret muses in the East Village, where she now lives with her husband, Ted. Margaret has decided to quit teaching English to rich kids and write a meaningful novel. The trouble is, she doesn't have a plot. She strains to invent a hero, Robert Martin, who interminably makes breakfast while remembering Vietnam. But it is more fun to use her computer to exchange e-mails with Letty, a devoted mom whose world is turned upside down when her husband, Michael, lands a big-deal museum job in L.A. and the couple begin spending beyond their means. A while after the reader has figured out that Margaret would rather script Letty's life than Robert's, Margaret gloms onto the weird equation. The deeper Letty sinks into debt and degradation, the better the chances that Margaret can write a bestseller about her and make enough money to save them both. Exit Robert, enter Lexie, based on the Lettie whom Margaret manipulates electronically while feigning a best friend's concern. Schwarz (Drowning Ruth) has a wicked eye for human foibles. Ted's relentless accountancy (he records the purchase of Tic-Tacs), successful writer Sally Sternforth's insufferable ego, the cavalier ways of literary agent Heather Mendelson Blake, Michael's blind ambition: Schwarz nails them all. As funny as it is cruel, the novel sweeps you along on its fast-track slide to hell. While some readers may cavil at a morality play without redemption, others will respect the no-exit spin on ambition and greed.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (October 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385499728
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385499729
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,231,148 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By E. Harker on February 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Many of the reviews claim that one of the book's major faults is that the characters are a far cry from reality. I find the opposite to be true.Perhaps there is some embellishing involved but Margaret and Letty can easily parallel people in my own life who I have known since my own childhood and so I can say with much certainty that the both of them are not such unlikely people as you might think.

The one complaint that I do have about this book is that 2/3's of the book is build up and then the ending comes a bit too quickly, I think. If she could have played up the events in the end I think I would have been more satisfied. Especially with an ending that is tragic, I had a sense that it was a bit abrupt. Otherwise, I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes character studies especially. Fascinating!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Writer's Block on February 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
From the moment I picked up a copy of this book at work, I was hooked. Having a taste for character driven plots, I really felt that I could sink my teeth into this piece. I was right! What I found in reading All Is Vanity is that the characters in this book were very -real-. They have strengths and weaknesses and are multifaceted individuals who are quite different from one another and yet it is absolutely believable that the two could be friends. There is a type of chemistry between the two women that is illustrated so well.I have to admit that, in part, perhaps my enthusiasm for this novel comes form the fact that it hits just a bit too close to home for me. I, like I'm sure many readers could, can easily draw parallels to my own life. Who, who has any love of writing at all, hasn't imagine writing The Great American Novel! It can't be helped. One would like to be humble and keep feet on firmly planted on ground but it is still nice to be swept in the moment. After all, if you are going to strive to be something, why not strive to be the best? It's funny and yet painful to watch Margret struggle with this Goliath of a goal she has set for herself and yet anyone who has been there knows it so well...You just HAVE to laugh...just after suppressing the urge to cry...At any rate...I digress. The point is this... IT's funny how a book which in a way addresses art reflecting life (Or all out carbon copying it) should do the same for me, the reader! I've read several reviews that complain that the ending is a disappointment or that the characters are not likeable. When it comes down to it, it is a matter of opinion. If my experience counts for anything, however, I would like to say that IN their downfalls...these people are made more real.Read more ›
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Theresa W on December 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I have a positive review for this book, though I understand it can often be hard to follow up for a book like Drowning Ruth- with so much acclaim. I felt this was a strong second book for Schwarz. I enjoyed reading this book, but let me say that I do understand where a reader can wonder in the first 100 pages or so where this story is going...I mean, if you read the jacket of the book, you know where it's going, takes a bit to get there. After I got further into the book, I understood the strong back ground was to show the reader what it was like to BE Margaret, a writer-want-to-be (at that point). After that brief intro to her & her friend, the book really picks up, and I begin to groan for Letty & her situation, finally taking note where it is headed. I really enjoyed reading this book, thought the ending was worthy as well, and whether I liked the ending or not makes a big difference to me. The only thing I would change is that on the jacket of the book, to not mention where Margaret gets her story idea from. I think more & more things for movies & books aren't left to the reader or viewer to discover, we're given the whole plot in a preview or review. This jacket doesn't give it all away, however, I think it would have been an excellent surprise in reading, if one didn't know where Margaret's big inspiration was going to come from. Other than that, I'm definitely recommend reading this book. It will give you an appreciation for writers.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Fanoula Sevastos on January 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Margaret, an English teacher in a New York private school, makes the brash decision to leave her position and spend the next year writing a novel. In her infinite wisdom, she believes this will be an easy task despite never having published as much as a short story before. She has illusions of grandeur, that her best-selling novel will show the world how brilliant she truly is and turn her into the talk of the town. After spending several months having a great amount of difficulty "getting started" - she has no direction for her book and she procrastinates her time by doing a million other absolutely necessary things such as painting the room her computer is in a soothing color more condusive to writing - she realizes that she is in big trouble, especially since she's been lying to her husband and everyone else around her that the novel is going great and is halfway finished.
Meanwhile, in L.A., her best friend Letty, the two of them inseparable since grade school, is having troubles of her own. Her husband has recently secured a position with the famous Otis museum, and Letty, who has been raising a family of four on a modest budget in a modest home,] is trying to transform herself into fitting her new "affluent" social position. She buys a house in the right part of town, near Beverly Hills, and then gets caught up with redesigning and redecorating the house in a way that keeps up with the Joneses, even though she finds the whole idea of that ridiculous on many levels. The two friends correspond via email and as Letty describes the daily "hardships" of purchasing the right club chairs and hiring the right gardener, Margaret finds inspiration in Letty's life.
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