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Maggie Darling: A Modern Romance Hardcover – December 9, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; 1 edition (December 9, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871139103
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871139108
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,897,712 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Kunstler's first novel in over 10 years reflects, in deliciously funny and satiric fashion, some of his spirited nonfiction critiques of contemporary culture (The City in Mind; The Geography of Nowhere). Maggie Darling is a mid-career Martha Stewart type and aptly described media darling. But when her millionaire husband, Kenneth, snogs a pretty young thing during Maggie's celebrity-studded, career-enhancing Christmas party, "the goddess of hearth and home" faces a test of her prodigious inner resources. Maggie's picaresque romantic adventures begin with an affair in Venice with a British rock icon turned movie actor, followed by a misguided evening with a besotted photographer and a weekend in Vermont with her charming but disingenuous editor. Kunstler's details are perfect: the mouth-watering menus, the designer clothes, the name-dropping of celebrities both fictional and real. Maggie struggles to sort out a variety of betrayals and romantic disappointments while also building her multimillion-dollar catering, book and television empire. Items on her to-do list include attending to Lindy, her heartbroken, drug-addled college friend; hosting her son as he takes a break from Swarthmore and makes some dubious professional associations; and dealing with the death by sniper of her beloved gardener. While most of the secondary characters serve only as foils for Maggie and her grand dilemmas, Kunstler's great achievement is the creation of a surprisingly well-rounded and sympathetic heroine. Maggie isn't insensitive-her compulsive list making is a coping mechanism. And though Kunstler betrays his heroine as the plot devolves into farce, loose ends tie up as pretty as a Christmas bow and the novel radiantly succeeds as a contemporary comedy of manners.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Kunstler has written several nonfiction treatises on urban decay (The City in Mind, The Geography of Nowhere), and he can't seem to keep that agenda out of his fiction. Most critics agree that Maggie Darling is a highly engaging comedy of manners up until the author uses his heroine's decline as a metaphor for the death of civilization. He pokes great fun at Maggie's designer-label world, but the subplots involving illiterate black rappers and drug dealers strain the novel's credibility. According to the Hartford Courant, this novel, "however amusing, isn't half as interesting as the real life tales of Martha [Stewart]." Readers turned on by a plethora of food similes will get their fill here.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By "justinchend" on July 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
That's right, Portland, Oregon. (See above.) Of course I'm going to like it.
The Amazon-review scandals of the past few months require full disclosure. So I'll come out: I think Kunstler's a goddam hero, Mencken+Orwell+Balzac, with a wicked eye for the puerile and a merciless pen aimed at everything venal and sinister in our car-encamped culture. I must think that--I live in the greatest--the only?--city in America, where our civic leaders have committed JHK's non-fiction to memory, chapter and verse, and even the Republicans (like me) adopt his aesthetic visions.
No, not the only city in America. New York, too. Even it, though, is imperiled by the vast expanse of plasticized waste parasitically feeding off the metropolitan core. (See: Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, etc.)
How did we get this way? That's the premise of Maggie Darling. How have we turned on ourselves so viciously, like those snakes that start gnawing at their own tailis?
Kunstler knows, and here he takes the reader on a narrative trek for answers, through a socially-supposed anti-hero, the Stewartesque Maggie Darling. A great choice on two levels. One, because while it's easy to lampoon Stewart, it's harder (and therefore worthier, for a writer) to find the redeemable in her empire. Two, because Stewart's pre-Imclone image--perfect timing on that, huh, James? How cruel the Gods are--depends precisely on that which our modern country disdains: standards. (Which goes a long way to explaining the horrible Martha backlash.)
It's not as if we've abandoned standards for decadence. No. Counterintuitively, our standardlessness pushes us in the other direction, toward a vaguely Protestant servile depravity.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on February 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Martha Stewart is an easy target, but Kunstler's hilarious send-up portrays a character whose compulsions and affectations are as charming as they are funny. Maggie Darling, the quintessential Connecticut celebrity hostess, parades her prodigious efficiency from the first page as she surveys her domain, in splendid readiness for "The Christmas Feast for Two Hundred."
This breathlessly detailed perfection, capped by the arrival of the first glittering guests and Maggie's ritual panic attack, captures Maggie's life at its peak. But all that is about to change.
In the midst of her party, Maggie catches her husband of 26 years in flagrant infidelity and casts him out that very night. It might seem that life could only improve with the dissolute roué banished from her life, but, instead, life begins to unravel. Maggie succumbs to several unsuitable entanglements; her attempt to rescue an old friend backfires; friends and family members become involved in shady activities and worse; crime grows rampant, and the world itself seems to be crumbling around her.
But rather than give in to encroaching despair, Maggie rouses herself to cook, or at least make a list, thereby fending off chaos for another day. Though Kunstler ("The Geography of Nowhere," "The Halloween Ball") grants Maggie plenty of human frailties, meanness is not among them and neither is snobbishness, despite her exacting, stylish, rich-gal standards. She is delightful and Kunstler's writing has a stylish, precise archness and a madcap energy that suit his heroine right down to the over-the-top ending. Kunstler's first novel in 10 years is a winner.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Angel Santana on January 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
America as we know it (and we do know it) is going to hell in a handbasket, but if Maggie Darling has anything to do with it it'll be a Carolina sweetgrass basket, thoughtfully packed with "a fat wedge of buttery St. Andre, a tin of foie gras, boxes of oat and water biscuits" and a "really splendid 1988 Criots-Batard-Montrachet."

This is a delightful and fast-paced romp redolent of Tom Wolfe and P.G. Wodehouse. I was already a fan of James Howard Kunstler's work, especially two of his non-fiction books, The Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere (both of which, by the way, should be required reading for every American). If you've read those, or his acerbic essays on the sorry state of civilization, you may be surprised at the generous tone and likable heroine of this new novel, not to mention a number of extremely funny scenes which I hope to see in a major motion picture someday soon. (Hello, Jonathan Demme?)
It's easy to imagine this as a movie, because Kunstler's writing is so vivid and detailed that everything and everyone passing through Maggie's impeccable Connecticut country kitchen and somewhat (!) messier personal life can be visualized in living color.
You'll devour this book like one of Maggie's sumptuous feasts, feeling pampered and satisfied afterwards. Still, you may suffer a mild but nagging hangover -- that the fictional whacked-out world falling in ruins around her is not only plausible, but true.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Nancy French on January 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book because of the blurb on the cover from Candace Bushnell, who called it a "gourmet writing experience." From the moment I read the first pages, I was mesmerized by Kunstler's lyrical prose, his immense command of metaphor, and the character development of the protagonist Maggie Darling. I read the book during three days of tending to a toddler with the flu over the holidays... unable to sleep because I had to keep turning the pages to see what happens next. For the writing style alone, this book is worth the money.
Also, it is a great inside peek at life in the upper crust of New York, always a voyeuristic pleasure for those of us in "fly-over country."
I've never read a male author who can write a fantastic, believable female character like Kunstler does here. Great job.
The only reason I gave this book a four star review instead of five is that at the end, I felt like throwing myself in front of moving traffic. (I unfortunately live on a quiet road, and my neighbor was unwilling to help out with her minivan.) I know the book is satirical, I know it is exagerated, I know it is tongue in cheek. The novel pointed out that the world basically is a fallen, dark place -- and no amount of satire, or "grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it" bravado can make that horrible truth less acutely painful. Or maybe I was just in a foul mood because my kid had the flu while everyone else had visions of sugar plum dancing in their heads.
Great great novel. Superbly written and marvelously entertaining. I plan on reading as much of his work as possible.
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More About the Author

James Howard Kunstler is probably best known as the author of "The Long Emergency" (The Atlantic Monthly Press 2005), and "The Geography of Nowhere" (Simon and Schuster, 1993). Two other non-fiction titles in that series are "Home From Nowhere" (Simon and Schuster, 1996), and "The City in Mind" (Simon and Schuster, 2002). He's also the author of many novels, including his tale of the post-oil American future, "World Made By Hand" (The Atlantic Monthly press, 2008). The sequel will be published in the fall of 2010. His shorter work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, Metropolis, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and many other periodicals.

James Howard Kunstler was born in New York City in 1948. He attended New York's High School of Music and art and SUNY Brockport (BA, Theater, 1971). He was a reporter for the Boston Phoenix, the Albany Knickerbocker News, and later an editor with Rolling Stone Magazine. In 1975 he dropped out of corporate journalism to write books, and settled in Saratoga Spring, New York, where he has lived ever since.

Kunstler's popular blog, Clusterf**k Nation, is published every Monday morning at and his weekly podcast, The KunstlerCast, is refreshed every Thursday.

Kunstler is also a serious professional painter. His work may be seen at