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Brilliant premise but it was a disappointment,
This review is from: The Social Climber's Handbook: A Novel (Paperback)
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This book had a lot of promise. The concept -- a social satire about rich New Yorkers (one of whom is a serial killer) during the 2008 recession -- was brilliant and I was expecting to love it. But the execution of the concept fell short of my expectations and it was just so-so for me.
However, as satire is more amusing to people who are intimately familiar with the target of the satire, people who are familiar with the wealthy Upper East Side life would probably enjoy this book a lot more even with what I consider its limitations and find it absolutely hilarious.
The main character is Daisy Greenbaum, who lives with her investment banker husband and twin daughters in a huge coop apartment on an undesirable (my opinion) floor of a Park Avenue building. Daisy and Dick grew up middle class; their money came from Dick's job. Their social circle is not, for the most part, the WASP-y old-money Upper East Side, though their circles do intersect. Daisy's "friends" include women who married into (supposed) money and women who married economically below their family's economic status. Other of the characters who had money (including old WASP-y money), wanted social status of a different type -- fame.
At the beginning of the book, Dick nearly loses his job after writing a warning memo about The Bank's derivatives position. Daisy takes care of the situation, as she will take care of anything that threatens their economic and social standing. Daisy's willingness to do whatever it takes to keep her place in the social world is the only thing that really seemed bitingly satiric in the book. Most everything else seemed like a collection of stories one could read in the news (and most of us have heard about more wretched excess in People or TMZ).
One funny thing was the names the characters gave their children; the names themselves were about social climbing -- they all seemed like names they thought would sound old money and elite.
The plummeting stock market in 2008 was mentioned frequently but it didn`t seem to affect any of the characters other than Daisy and Dick, and it didn't appear to be more than a source of concern for Dick. I would have expected it to figure more prominently into the plot, especially with a Bernie Madoff-type character.
The author's writing style is ultimately what kept this book from living up to its premise. For much of the book, she simply tells what the characters are thinking or feeling rather than showing it by what the characters did or said. For me, that made reading the book a little flat and boring. Because of that, I didn't get a strong feeling for any of the characters; I neither loved nor loathed them. They didn't interest me enough to care.
Finally, the point of the author's satire isn`t clear. Is it that social climbing is a bad thing and people shouldn't want the status symbols others deem are the "best"? Or that an economy and riches built of derivatives is a bad thing? Your guess is as good as mine.