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Elements of Style Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 18, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the classic primer that Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Wasserstein (The Heidi Chronicles) names her dishy first novel after, Strunk & White note, "Style not only reveals the spirit of the man but reveals his identity." Wasserstein tries to apply that aphorism to Manhattan's wealthy elite shortly after 9/11. Upper East Side pediatrician Francesca "Frankie" Weissman doesn't have quite as much disposable income as the Manolo moms and Bonpoint babies that frequent her office. She's drawn into the city's circles of old and new money, including those of blue-blooded Samantha Acton; reinvented Californian Judy Tremont; and self-made film mogul Barry Santorini, son of a South Philly cobbler. As mothers stockpile Cipro and gas masks after 9/11, none of them stops believing that "life could be controlled if only you had the right resources." As the question of how, when and with whom Frankie will couple narrows, the novel hits a disconcerting number of false notes: points of view shift with jarring speed, a bathetic account of a suicide bombing rankles and it is hard to care much about characters who utter such lines as "That's love, babe. You always have to give 200 percent." But Wasserstein gets the trappings and tribulations (of friendship and of romance) right, making her depiction of the rich and fab trying to connect with one another witty and entertaining. (Apr.)
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Young women, in particular, will revel in this tongue-in-cheek, thoroughly satirical depiction of post-9/11 New York society. Wasserstein's skill as a playwright is evident through the witty dialogue and farcical situations she used to create her deeply shallow, largely revolting characters. Inane values, a terrorist bombing, an accidental death, and a debilitating illness compose the dark elements of the novel, initially obscured by the author's light writing style. Our mutual vulnerability to these situations, she reminds readers, is beyond what money, power, and beauty can control. Society pediatrician Frankie Weissman, a compassionate and selfless individual, provides the perfect foil for the thoroughly unlikable primary characters. Frankie is Wasserstein's hero. Perhaps she is Wasserstein herself. This novel is about recognizing what is and who are worth loving.–Claudia C. Holland, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (April 18, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400042313
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400042319
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,090,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Save yourself the pain, run don't walk.
There were so many points, when reading it, that I wanted to just throw it in the wastebasket.
I really wanted to like this book and was looking for a little fun.
JJ Stark

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Baird VINE VOICE on May 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Halfway through Wendy Wasserstein's first and last novel a character remarks that something that happened to him was "like an obvious movie with a basic plot point. I'd fire a writer who came up with s*** like that." Wasserstein's clever, tongue-in-cheek poke at her own standard plotting and reliance on formula aside, that statement becomes all too true of "Elements of Style." She sets the novel up as a social satire of Manhattan's wealthy elite -- nouveau and otherwise, but the first half of the book has no more to say about society and shallowness than you would find in a Jackie Collins escapade (think of it as "Hollywood Wives" for the Manhattan set), a true disappointment for a novel with such a high pedigree and an obviously capable writer. You know exactly where the story is heading, and up to the novel's second half it will dully adhere to those predictions. Then, in a nod to post-9/11 anxiety and, one suspects, to Wasserstein's terrible illness, the story is deluged with random-acts-of-plotting to shake things up. There's an explosion, a cancer diagnosis, some break-ups and, most shocking of all, more than one death to be dealt with. But it comes too little, too late for the reader -- who has already lost interest in Wasserstein's paper-thin characters and begun to be more and more annoyed by them. I would guess that Wasserstein, in the throes of her own mortality, wanted to show the randomness of life's cruelties and that no one, no matter how rich, can buy off disaster or unhappiness. The intention almost rescues the novel, but gets bogged down in the irrelevance that Wasserstein treats the new developments with. By the book's end everyone has gone back to living the life that they were leading on page one.Read more ›
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By SKW on July 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As one of the other reviewer's said -- "I liked it, but didn't love it." However, it is a near perfect characterization of upper crust New Yorkers. I felt it had a Gatsby-like thread in that the two few ordinary folks (Jil, Frankie, Judy and Charlie) are profoundly affected by the goings on of the rich and famous. The main difference is that unlike the poor Gatsby characters whose lives are ruined, Wasserstein's ordinary folks roll with the punches and are too cynical to be hurt by the elite class.

As for 9/11, I live and work in Manhattan and saw the Towers be attacked and fall, firsthand. Many friends and associates were lost that day. I lived through the sad, sad days and weeks afterwards. Beyond a mention of 9/11 here or there, this book could have taken place in the go go 80's or 90's. The book revealed none of the real 9/11 pathos that truly existed in the city.

Still, it's a fun romp through one of the greatest cities in the world.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A. Vegan on August 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The colorful cast of characters includes style-setting Samantha, who suffers from self-esteem issues; Judy, a carb-abstaining gossip, whose social machinations make up a full-time job; and Clarice, who lists among her accomplishments the keeping of a steady supply of her husband's favorite English muffins at each of their four homes. The more narcissistic characters are balanced by Frankie Weissman, the down-to-earth pediatrician who treats the children of the rich and famous but is not affected by their excessive lifestyles. Chock-full of shopping, mansions, spa treatments, and fine dining, it is a sensuous read, but Wasserstein's ironic perspective saves it from being merely decadent.

Perhaps you just have to be a New Yorker to really appreciate this book though I think you could apply the personalities of Ms. Wassterstein's characters to people in any city. It was a very easy read, but quite predictable for the most part I thought. I was amazed that in a circle of people in NY immidiately post 9/11 there was no mention of any loss in the terrorist attacks. Not that I would have wanted her to dwell on that, but there were 8 or 9 central characters and no mention of a loss at all?
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Richard LeComte VINE VOICE on February 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Sure, Wendy Wasserstein's novel has some of the minor flaws of her plays -- over-credentialed characters and heavy exposition -- but "Elements of Style" draws such strong, vivid characters against the backdrop of unabashed, post-9/11 greed that you'll be drawn in almost immediately. At the top of the list is Frankie Weissman, pediatrician to rich and poor alike, whose position as an outsider, her compassion, her struggles with her declining father and her palpable lonliness give the book its backbone. Then there's the sleek, annoying Samantha Acton, whose seat at the pinnacle of the elite is endangered by her impulsive affair with Barry Santorini, a brasher-than-brash movie producer. The plot, the parties and the people move from outrageousness to tragedy like rocks skipping on the surface of a lake. And hanging above it all is the reader's knowledge that author Wasserstein died before her book was published. The novel serves as a capstone of the playwright and novelist's career of chronicling uncommon women.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Melissa N. VINE VOICE on May 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Despite its lukewarm reviews, I actually enjoyed this book very much. "Elements of Style" is author Wendy Wasserstein's last novel, and it revolves around high-society life in New York City. The story begins shortly after September 11, 2001, and follows the intertwined lives of Manhattan's hottest socialites. There's Judy Tremont, whose sole purpose in life is climbing the social ladder and buddying up to people like Samantha Acton and her husband, Charlie, who are New York City's current "It" couple. Then there are the Satorinis: The obnoxious, self-righteous Barry, an Oscar-winning movie producer, and his wife, Clarice, who has made a career out of catering to her husband's every desire. Then there's Dr. Frankie Weissman, the Upper East Side's top ranked pediatrician who sort of stumbles into the disastrous world of high society life and has a hard time escaping it.

Other reviewers have blasted "Elements of Style" for its lack of redeeming characters and lackluster plot. However, Wasserstein was a brilliant writer, and this book is obviously a satire intended to highlight those exact criticisms. With the possible exception of Frankie, all of the characters in the book are basically horrible people who are incredibly self-absorbed and suffer from severe cases of self-entitlement. "Elements of Style" is a hilarious glimpse into the lives of depressing people who foolishly think money can buy them anything, but in reality, it often leaves them with nothing at all.
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