Glamorous Disasters: A Novel

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Noah rose from humble beginnings and, through pure grit and resourcefulness, got himself through Princeton. Now staggering under the weight of massive student loans and dazzled by life in the big city, Noah enters the rarefied field of SAT tutoring in Manhattan, working one-on-one with the spoiled, gorgeous children of the American aristocracy.

He takes on the considerable academic challenges that are Dylan Thayer, a dissipated high school athlete-socialite, and his waifish ...

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Glamorous Disasters: A Novel

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Noah rose from humble beginnings and, through pure grit and resourcefulness, got himself through Princeton. Now staggering under the weight of massive student loans and dazzled by life in the big city, Noah enters the rarefied field of SAT tutoring in Manhattan, working one-on-one with the spoiled, gorgeous children of the American aristocracy.

He takes on the considerable academic challenges that are Dylan Thayer, a dissipated high school athlete-socialite, and his waifish sister, Tuscany. Dylan won't lift a finger to do anything but pick up a lacrosse stick, and Tuscany is avidly pursuing her own downfall via drugs and relationships with men more than twice her age. But their mother, a self-medicating pediatrician, has ambitious plans for them in spite of their shortcomings — and she has plans for their SAT tutor as well.

With echoes of The Devil Wears Prada, The Nanny Diaries, and Bright Lights, Big City, Glamorous Disasters is an incisive portrayal of a small and privileged world, a cautionary tale written by a Harvard grad who was once an SAT tutor himself — an outsider who became a magnificently observant insider.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A] gossipy roman À clef...Moral ambiguity, the little-known world of SAT tutoring and pill-popping pediatrician moms make for entertaining fiction."
— Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today

"A clever debut...[Schrefer] delivers a gleefully biting and witty story."
— Emily Cook, Booklist

"Sex, drugs, and SAT scores."
— Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News

"[An] acutely observed, smoothly written confection [that] promises to do for overprivileged high schoolers what The Devil Wears Prada did for snotty fashion editors and The Nanny Diaries for Park Avenue moms."
— Peg Tyre, Newsweek

Publishers Weekly
Schrefer's debut novel about an SAT tutor to the children of Manhattan's elite bears a superficial resemblance to The Nanny Diaries, but his well-plotted morality tale offers no comic relief. Noah is fresh out of Princeton-a brainy 24-year-old who worked his way out of an impoverished, rural Virginia childhood and wants to be a professor-to "make it into a more genteel world." To pay off $80,000 in college loans, Noah, who lives in Harlem, tutors the children of Fifth Avenue families like the Thayers for $395 an hour, regretting the leg up he gives these already advantaged kids. The megamoney manager father and youthful, pediatrician mother are referred to only as "Mr. and Dr. Thayer" throughout. Mr. Thayer is largely absent and Dr. Thayer competes with her 16-year-old daughter, Tuscany, while ghostwriting essays for her 17-year-old druggie lacrosse-playing son, Dylan. When Dylan's scores don't improve despite Noah's best efforts, Dr. Thayer offers Noah a Faustian bargain that would settle his loans at the cost of his scruples. Schrefer (a private tutor himself) confirms what we always suspected about the ber-rich, tempering the novel's easy momentum and voyeurism with insightful if plodding class-conscious social critique: "The scale of money looms here, is too large to be comprehended, like geologic time to a human life span." (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Like Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus's The Nanny Diaries, Schrefer's debut novel gives us a sneak peak into the lives of the terribly wealthy, terrible parents of Manhattan. Only this time it's through the eyes of a high-priced SAT tutor. Fresh from Princeton, Noah has mountains of school loans to pay off and a family to support before he can pursue his dreams of becoming a professor. So he gets a job at an elite SAT tutoring agency, through which he meets the Thayers. There's the beguiling psychiatrist Dr. Thayer, who repeatedly partakes of her own drug stash; the rarely seen, wheeling-and-dealing Mr. Thayer; Dylan, the laziest rich kid ever; and Tuscany, an enticing teenager who may actually have some smarts buried beneath her designer outfits and mascaraed lashes. As Noah gets sucked into the Thayers' intricate lives, his own life spirals out of control. Shrefer's book is not quite as biting as The Nanny Diaries, which took readers into more homes and displayed even more atrocious acts of parenting (a big part of the fun). Still, Glamorous is a fun read. Schrefer is a Harvard graduate who actually did tutor kids for the SATs, so one can bet the book speaks some truth. Recommended for public libraries.-Beth Gibbs, Davidson, NC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A high-priced tutor sinks into the lives of a dysfunctional Fifth Avenue family in this debut novel. Noah, a recent Princeton grad, earns his post-collegiate keep preparing the children of Manhattan's upper-crust for entrance exams. The job has more inherent drama than you might expect: Only an Ivy League acceptance letter will do in this ultra-competitive environment, but the teens themselves are spoiled, unmotivated and, despite their pricey private educations, not very well-schooled. Noah's biggest problem child is Dylan Thayer, who's impossibly hip and comically dim. (A previous tutor coached him to work Harriet Tubman into every essay, and he robotically complies, even if he's asked to discuss the greatest invention of the 20th century.) Tuscany, Dylan's younger sister, is similarly sheltered and ignorant-an attitude exemplified by a bedroom pillow of hers embroidered with the words "Boys Like Girls Who Look Neat-When in Doubt, Just Don't Eat!" Noah soon learns that the parents are the core of this rot: Mom, a pediatrician who attempts to bribe Noah into taking the SAT for Dylan, is incapable of basic moral guidance, let alone discipline, and Dad, a wealthy publishing mogul, is all but absent. Schrefer, who's worked as an SAT tutor, has a fine eye for the insularity and subtle viciousness of the Thayers' world, but Noah comes straight out of central casting: he's anxious by nature but comfortable with people of other races and classes, proud of his rural background but careful to obscure it among urbane company, deeply concerned about money and success but too noble to be corrupted by greed. And true to form, familiar rewards and punishments are mechanically doled out in the finalpages. Not as Jackie Collins-slick as the title suggests, but pretty lightweight for a novel about the redemptive power of intellect.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743281683
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 2/13/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,481,635
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Eliot Schrefer graduated from Harvard College in 2001 and lives in New York City. Glamorous Disasters is his first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 1

Dr. Thayer will pay $395 an hour for Noah's services. Only the classiest prostitute could charge as much and, to any doorman glimpsing Noah stepping out of his taxi, Noah might indeed seem a well-kept callboy. Though brandless, his cobalt shirt is pressed as flat as paper, and the flesh exposed at his throat is Hamptons-tan. Diesel sunglasses dangle from a buttonhole. He has carefully chosen his pants: pin-striped dark linen, to denote a youthful vitality bobbing beneath a surface respect for decorum. His headphones are both inconspicuous and expensive. The guise is complete.

Noah pauses in front of a Fifth Avenue building, appearing dumbstruck that there should exist an environment so ideally suited to him. But he is neither favored son returned from the Hamptons nor callboy. He is an SAT tutor, paid those $395 to ensure that Thayer Junior attends the same Ivy League school as Thayer Senior. He has made himself appear as one of his students — attractive, complacent, glassy-eyed — and he will work at them stealthily, from within their world. They don't stand a chance to resist him.

When Noah feels tired — and tonight is such a night — he mouths, Three hundred ninety-five dollars, throughout his commute. Dr. Thayer called to ask him to come a half hour early; the family would pay the cab fare. And so, when Noah flagged the solitary yellow car arrowing between the gray brick buildings of Harlem, his meter started running along with the cabby's: twenty-five minutes' travel time added to a hundred-minute session, plus the fare itself, will run the Thayer family $835.

The doormen snap to attention when Noah appears behind the etched glass of the entrance, but then they slouch when the better interior lights reveal Noah's youth, his $30 sandals, the headphones in his ears. The doormen are white, of course, but not White — Noah listens for the trace of an Irish or Russian accent, reads the bleariness of a Brooklyn commute into their late-night eyes. They regard Noah warily, as if girding themselves to cast him back outside. The biggest snobs of any building, the doormen.

"I'm here for Dylan Thayer," Noah says.

A doorman nods in reluctant civility, picks up the handset, and dials. His console is gold and velvet blue, like a presidential lectern. Nine-four-nine Fifth Avenue is, like its Park Avenue neighbors, an essentially ugly structure with the artless lines of a Monopoly hotel, but the interior is done up in fleur-de-lis and chinoiserie. The doorman glances at Noah.

"Noah," he says.

"'Noah' is on his way up, Dr. Thayer . . . You're welcome." He hangs up and turns a key. "Eleven F."

Noah crosses to the mahogany doors of the elevator. He feels the doorman's gaze on his back, and wishes he were wearing loafers, that he looked more like someone who would live here. But at least the whole doorman interchange has earned him $30. He is $81,000 in debt. Or, after today's session, $80,700. The doors open.

Eleven F is the only button that will light. This is to prevent Noah from infiltrating any other apartment. The elevator is fast, but even so the ride up grosses $5.

The F in 11F stands for the front half of the floor: the doors open directly into the foyer of the apartment. A woman slides over the partially opened secondary door, frail hand extended. A pair of gold bracelets tinkles.

"Susan Thayer," she says.

Noah takes the bony hand and rattles it once.

"A pleasure, Dr. Thayer." One key to the first meeting is to get the titles right — if he's talking to a mother and she works, "Doctor" is a likely choice.

"Come in." She opens the door and floats into a mirrored vestibule.

She could be the mother of any of Noah's students: her hair is highlighted and lowlighted and then carelessly pulled back, as if to belie the weekly appointments required to maintain it. Equine eyes and dark eyebrows prove the dishonesty of the sun-streaked hair. A string of pearls rides her emaciated shoulders, rests in the gorges between her clavicles.

She smiles sweetly as her eyes dart over Noah's form. Dr. Thayer has been monstrous in her initial phone conversations, obliquely accusing Noah of overcharging her and disliking her son, whom he has not yet met. But in person she gives every appearance of fighting back the impulse to hug him. The Fifth Avenue hostess urge is hardwired.

"I wanted to be sure to be home the first time you met Dylan because, if not, who knows what could happen?" She throws her arms into the air and laughs, and Noah laughs too, mainly because she looks like a whirligig. He can't decide whether her joke is cautionary or just nonsensical and suddenly it comes back to him, strong, that he should be in front of a classroom instead.

"Well, I'm excited to meet Dylan," Noah says jovially. He knows he is rushing this particular phase of the introductory ritual. He should take a few more moments to make the mother feel desired, but the responsibility of the money ticking away propels him. Noah grew up in a town with street names like Countryside Lane and State Road 40, not Park or Madison or even anything ending in Avenue. While a $200 chitchat on the stairs is nothing to the Thayers, to him it is unconscionable: the scale of money looms here, is too large to be comprehended, like geologic time to a human life span.

She gestures at a door upstairs. "He's in his bedroom."

Noah starts up, swinging around the flare of a shabby-chic banister and ascending into a darkened second-floor hallway. He wonders why Dr. Thayer isn't leading him up.

"Noah," Dr. Thayer calls after him. Noah stops and looks down. He can see her hard breasts where her shirt pouches around her narrow shoulders, and dutifully concentrates on the banister, even though the idea of Dr. Thayer's being exposed vaguely excites him.

"Look, I know there are problems here," she continues. "He just hasn't learned this stuff. I don't know why."

It is a familiar first-meeting move. The guilt deflection: my child may be stupid, but that doesn't make me any less intelligent.

"The test is teachable," Noah declaims from the landing. He can't remember if he has already given her this speech on the phone. "All it measures is how well one takes it. In some ways students from the best high schools are at a disadvantage, because they are taught to think abstractly, to voice opinions and argue nuance. The kid in the public school in Arkansas has been taking multiple-choice tests his whole life. Standardized tests are the first resort of low-income school districts, and the last resort of high-income ones."

The closing bit (Arkansas!) always gets a world-weary nod from parents. Dr. Thayer peers up and smiles as if they were best friends just reunited and meeting for coffee. Despite the disingenuousness of the gesture, Noah is charmed. He finds himself wishing that he and Dr. Thayer were at a coffee shop somewhere. "That's very interesting, but it's not really the issue here. You'll see," Dr. Thayer says. Copyright ©2006 by Eliot Schrefer

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2006

    Fun, funny and decadent

    Absolutely wonderful: the rare blend of laugh-out-loud funny and insightfully human. Have given to three of my girlfriends.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2006

    Very poor

    Badly written and boring. Characters are static and predictable. Waste of time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2006


    Great read. The author pulls you into the story on the first few pages and you will not set it down until the end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2006


    This book was completely predictable and boring.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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