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In the Drink Hardcover – May 4, 1999
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Bridget Jones's Diary seems to have unleashed a flood of similar novels featuring unmarried, underemployed, somewhat neurotic young women searching for the right job--and, more importantly, the right man. One of the better entries in the Bridget Jones Sweepstakes is Kate Christensen's In the Drink, which features a 29-year-old New Yorker. Claudia Steiner long ago traded in her initial dream of making it big in journalism for a position as personal secretary and ghostwriter for Genevieve "Jackie" del Castellano, an elderly writer of bestselling novels and a lunatic to boot. In addition to her employment woes, Claudia has an unsatisfactory love life: her lover is married, and the man she loves just wants to be friends. Helen Fielding played these miseries for comedy; Christensen, however, takes her character--and her readers--down a darker path. Where Bridget would get tipsy in a pub with her girlfriends, Claudia prefers to drink alone. Still, though Claudia's tribulations mount--she loses her job, she can't pay the rent, she makes a pass at her best friend and secret crush, William, and gets rebuffed--Christensen manages to keep the tone hopeful even as she refuses to pull her punches. When, for example, an acquaintance calls her a drunk, Claudia thinks:
A drunk was someone to be reckoned with, someone interesting and far-gone. I should have been alarmed and ashamed, should have considered joining all those chain-smokers in church basements--I knew what I was supposed to feel. But the sunlight covered the street with the clear healthy gold of ale, the brownstone faces were burnished the toast-warm color of bourbon in candlelight, the air was clear and lively as gin, and something leapt in me, a persistent little flame of self.In the Drink is not a Cinderella story, after all--nor even a retelling of a Jane Austen classic--but Christensen ends her debut on a hopeful note without giving its heroine a complete makeover. And in Claudia she has created a character who is endearing because of her flaws, not in spite of them. --Alix Wilber
From Publishers Weekly
The smart, urban and aimless have found their heroine in this charmingly original debut novel. Claudia Steiner is a funny, pretty, cynical 29-year-old who has "failed to connect" and who's disillusioned with her spotty employment history and restless, rootless existence. Having long ago lost the journalistic ambition that brought her to Manhattan, Claudia lives in a hole of an apartment on the Upper West Side. She can't pay her rent or bills and spends all her money on cabs, take-out food and nights of drinking at East Village clubs. Her bleak love life consists of drunken one-night stands, a passionate but doomed relationship with a married poet and a consuming but seemingly unrequited love for her dearest friend, William. Claudia works as a ghostwriter (and personal secretary) to 70-something Jackie del Castellano, bestselling author and socialite, a "semi-lunatic" spitfire whose outrageous mistreatment of Claudia borders on the sadistic (yet perversely hilarious). Claudia's miserable existence approaches its nadir when she makes some endearingly horrific blunders at work and gets fired. "A persistent little flame of self" and a wonderfully ironic sense of humorAincluding a kind of wry pride in her capacity for boozingApull her through, however. Claudia comes to realize that the people to whom she's enviously compared herself aren't what they appear to be: Jackie is not as invincible as she seems, and even William, her idealized romantic hero, has his dark side. The discovery of compassion and connection in the midst of Claudia's chaotic and confusing life encourages her to redefine what she wants and what it means to be an adult. Though often poignant, her memorable story never cloys and is enlivened with refreshingly unsentimental humor and a sparkling ensemble of skillfully drawn contemporary urban characters.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
"In the Drink" is the story of a 20 something single woman named Claudia Steiner. She lives in your typical roach-infested Manhattan apartment, works for a complete passive-aggresive nut case, dates the wrong men, and is madly in love with the "Unavailable-Man." There were many times throughout the novel when I wanted to shake Claudia and tell her to wake-up and change her miserable existence. But the beauty of the book is that Claudia IS flawed just like we all are. There is no "tied-up in a pretty bow" ending. Claudia plods through her life making the same mistakes over and over again and expecting different results. But Christensen always kept me believing that Claudia would turn out OK. And even though the ending is not "happy" I had a gut feeling that when Claudia finally hits her bottom she has the inner strength to pull herself out of it and end up on the right track. This is what kept me going.
While "In the Drink" is a dark story, Christensen has an amazing sense of humor and writes some of the funniest scenes I've read in a long time. Her affair with the married John Threadgill is hilarious, as is a party scene at the apartment of her "crush," William. I so identified with Claudia because there was a period of my life where I WAS her. But fortunately, I pulled myself out of it as I believe Claudia will. Another wonderful part of the book is examining Claudia's relationship with her mother. How many of us have been at a restaurant with our mothers and been pressured into ordering what SHE wanted us to eat? I've been there! There are some things Claudia does that I don't necessarily approve of. Obviously stealing from my boss and forging her checks is not a behavior I'd care to emulate. But when Claudia does it, it's OK because I felt she was remorseful. That doesn't make it right but it does humanize her.
I've read in many reviews references to "Bridget Jones' Diary" and I think this book is hands down ten times better than "Bridget" simply because the characters are real and are dealing with their lives on a level that Bridget doesn't. I've also read in reviews that people think Claudia is a loser and hated the book becuase of that. Well, in a way I suppose she is a "loser", but a temporary loser, and who among us hasn't been a loser at one point in life? If you're a woman in your 20s or 30s DEFINITELY read this book. You won't be sorry.
Who could possibly believe that Claudia would have as many friends as she does have? What a loser of a person. Just incredible the awful story Christensen came up with. I understand that we need protagonists with foibles--we are all human, after all--but Claudia is a reprehensible woman. At 29, she's still going through issues most women get themselves out of at 24 or 25. This is pathetic.
Even Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing was better, and I thought that book wasn't much to write home about.
I think I'll stick to the old reliables like John Cheever, Edith Wharton, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner if I want good American writing. For light reading of this genre, try Elinor Lipman, Lorrie Moore. Some good books are Jackie by Josie, Mail, Was it Something I Said, or Cupid and Diana. At least those female characters are both interesting and not reprehensible.