The Best of Everything

The Best of Everything

by Rona Jaffe


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143035299
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/31/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 170,196
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.91(d)
Age Range: 18 - 17 Years

About the Author

Rona Jaffe is the New York Times bestselling author of the internationally acclaimed novels The Road Taken, The Cousins, Family Secrets, and Five Women, as well as the classic bestsellers Class Reunion and The Best of Everything. She is the founder of the Rona Jaffe Foundation, which presents a national literary award to promising female writers.

Read an Excerpt

The Best of Everything

By Rona Jaffe


ISBN: 0-143-03529-0

Chapter One

You see them every morning at a quarter to nine, rushing out of the maw of the subway tunnel, filing out of Grand Central Station, crossing Lexington and Park and Madison and Fifth avenues, the hundreds and hundreds of girls. Some of them look eager and some look resentful, and some of them look as if they haven't left their beds yet. Some of them have been up since six-thirty in the morning, the ones who commute from Brooklyn and Yonkers and New Jersey and Staten Island and Connecticut. They carry the morning newspapers and overstuffed handbags. Some of them are wearing pink or chartreuse fuzzy overcoats and five-year-old ankle-strap shoes and have their hair up in pin curls underneath kerchiefs. Some of them are wearing chic black suits (maybe last year's but who can tell?) and kid gloves and are carrying their lunches in violet-sprigged Bonwit Teller paper bags. None of them has enough money.

At eight-forty-five Wednesday morning, January second, 1952, a twenty-year-old girl named Caroline Bender came out of Grand Central Station and headed west and uptown toward Radio City. She was a more than pretty girl with dark hair and light eyes and a face with a good deal of softness and intelligence in it. She was wearing a grey tweed suit, which had been her dress-up suit in college, and was carrying a small attaché case, which contained a wallet with five dollars in it, a book of commuter tickets, some make-up, and three magazines entitled respectively The Cross, My Secret Life, and America's Woman.

It was one of those cold, foggy midwinter mornings in New York, the kind that makes you think of lung ailments. Caroline hurried along with the rest of the crowd, hardly noticing anybody, nervous and frightened and slightly elated. It was her first day at the first job she had ever had in her life, and she did not consider herself basically a career girl. Last year, looking ahead to this damp day in January, she had thought she would be married. Since she'd had a fiancé it seemed logical. Now she had no fiancé and no one she was interested in, and the new job was more than an economic convenience, it was an emotional necessity. She wasn't sure that being a secretary in a typing pool could possibly be engrossing, but she was going to have to make it so. Otherwise she would have time to think, and would remember too much ...

Fabian Publications occupied five air-conditioned floors in one of the modern buildings in Radio City. On this first week of the new year the annual hiring has just been completed. Three secretaries had left the typing pool, one to get married, the other two for better jobs. Three new secretaries had been hired to start on Wednesday, the second of January. One of these was Caroline Bender.

It was five minutes before nine when Caroline reached the floor where the typing pool was located, and she was surprised to find the large room dark and all the typewriters still neatly covered. She had been afraid she would be late, and now she was the first one. She found the switch that turned on the ceiling lights and prowled around waiting for someone to appear. There was a large centre room with rows of desks for the secretaries, and on the edges of this room were the closed doors of the offices for editors. Tinsel Christmas bells and red bows were still taped to some of the doors, looking bedraggled and sad now that the season was over.

She looked into several of the offices and saw that they seemed to progress in order of the occupant's importance from small tile-floored cubicles with two desks, to larger ones with one desk, and finally to two large offices with carpet on the floor, leather lounging chairs, and wood-panelled walls. From the books and magazines lying around in them she could see that one of these belonged to the editor of Derby Books and the other to the editor of The Cross. She heard voices then in the main room, and the sound of laughter and greetings. Stricken with a sudden attack of shyness, she came slowly out of the editor's office.

It was nine o'clock and the room was suddenly filling up with girls, none of whom noticed her presence at all. The teletype operator was combing her hair out of its pin curls, one of the typists was going from desk to desk collecting empty glass jars and taking coffee orders. Covers were being pulled off typewriters, coats hung up, newspapers spread out on desks to be read, and as each new arrival came in she was greeted with delighted cries. It sounded as though they had all been separated from one another for four weeks, not four days. Caroline didn't know which desk was hers and she was afraid to sit at someone else's, so she kept standing, watching, and feeling for the first time that morning that she was an outsider at a private club.


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Best of Everything 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
JudithK More than 1 year ago
Rona Jaffe's "The Best of Everything" - a classic read from the 1950s - offers a look into the lives of three women working in the publishing industry in Manhattan. The novel served as source material for a 20th Century Fox motion picture. If there are book clubs which concentrate on best-selling novels from the 1950s (James Jones' "From Here to Eternity" and "Some Came Running" should also make the list), this book should be included on the reading list.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rona Jaffe lets us know what life was like for young women in the 1950s. Her book enlightens us about the struggles of our mothers and grandmothers despite their college education. Many ways not much has changed, in others we are thankful. This book is the original SEX IN THE CITY. I am an avid reader and this book is outstanding on so many levels. Jkoury
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
This book captures the real life decisions and emotions that most career women face everyday. It s so relatable to the working woman that it's hard to believe that it was written more than half a century ago. This book clearly tells the struggle women have in finding a work-love balance. It's an emotional roller coaster reading about the lives of these five women: Caroline, the ambitious career woman in love with her ex-fiance, April, a malleable woman who bends with the whims of her career or love interest, Gregg, who loves obsessively, Barbara, struggling as a single mom to find both success in her career and her love life, and finally Mary Agnes, the woman whose job is a placeholder while she waits to get married.
AdonisGuilfoyle on LibraryThing 11 months ago
The blurb on the back of this book promotes it as a proto-Sex and the City, in the days when living and working solely to meet a man - THE man - was not anachronistic and rather pathetic, but expected of young 'girls'. Four women meet at the publishing house where they pass the time until they can get married and have babies, and become good friends whilst utterly degrading themselves over the first pair of trousers to pay them any attention. Behaving like twelve year olds dressing up in their mother's high heels and handbags, they each try to adjust to life in the big city, rooming in glorified closets and drinking cocktails, and dating 'boys' (these are women in their early twenties) on that eternal quest for an engagement ring. I'm not a feminist, but this could turn me; I know life and priorities were different in the 1950s, but there is no balance of personality or lifestyle in this story, only desperate girls and smug men. Caroline Bender (unfortunate last name), presumably Rona Jaffe's alter ego, is the strongest character, fighting male chauvanism and office politics to realise her ambition as an editor, but even she is reduced to a simpering romantic by the final chapters. Hick April, used and broken by a shallow playboy, verges on becoming a stalker when her dream is shattered, whilst actress Gregg falls right over the edge; only one girl gets a second chance and receives her fabled HEA. Divorcee and single mother Barbara maintains her dignity, and strikes gold after risking all on a married man, and the good girls all dump their independence for the delights of matrimony and motherhood. There is nothing wrong with a family life, but it is not the only option, even in the 1950s - the career women are portrayed as bitter spinsters, and no-one dares to forge a different path. Caroline comes close, but then plummets harder and faster into the depths of moping, lovesick weakness - over the fiance who threw her over, by letter, after meeting a better match whilst on a gap year in Europe! When he, too, lets her down, Caroline goes off the rails. Any man is better than none seems to be the message, if there is one; if not this is just a depressing take on 1950s American womanhood, and propaganda for the worst kind of fanatical, man-hating feminism.
bearette24 on LibraryThing 11 months ago
For the most part, I really enjoyed this story of young girls trying to make it in New York: Caroline, the whip-smart, ambitious Radcliffe grad; April, the naive, marriage-obsessed one; and Gregg, the obsessive actress (and least developed of the characters). The narrative often veered toward camp, but was smart as well as dishy. My only real problem was with the ending. I found it ridiculous and unsatisfying, and it didn't grow naturally out of the events that came before.
Kasthu on LibraryThing 11 months ago
The Best of Everything is a pretty intriguing novel. Set in New York City in the 1950s, the story focuses on five career women: Caroline, the Radcliffe graduate who still lives with her parents; April, the naive girl from Colorado; Gregg, the actress; Barbara, the single mom, and Mary Agnes, the young woman who anticipates her wedding. There¿s also Miss Fawcett, an editor who¿s sort of a Miranda-Priestly-in-training. They all work at Fabian Publishing while dreaming of something bigger and better.Jaffe intended her book to be a kind of cautionary tale, but oddly enough, it¿s had the opposite effect on young women everywhere; many decide to go into publishing or to work in New York because of this book. Like many other first novels, Jaffe¿s book is largely autobiographical; she too went to Radcliffe and worked for a while in publishing as a file clerk and then as an editor. Though the publishing industry had changed significantly in the fifty years since The Best of Everything was published, in many ways this book is still highly relevant today. At one point, one of the characters says, with regards to the women who work in the typing pool (also known as ¿the bullpen¿) in publishing, ¿They¿re all college girls with good educational backgrounds and no experience and they¿re willing to work for practically nothing. That¿s why Fabian can pay so little and get away with it.¿ The same thing can be said for the publishing industry today. It¿s really a timeless book, much more so than Jacqueline Suzann¿s Valley of the Dolls (which is similar to The Best of Everything in a lot of ways). For the time in which this novel was published, Jaffe was pretty open and candid about things such as abortion and sexual harassment.
karenmerguerian on LibraryThing 11 months ago
A group of young women who work in a New York publishing company together try to make lives for themselves in New York; a kind of 1950's "Sex in the City" but a little darker, perhaps. (The attention to fashion and the essentially disappointing men are consistent with the TV show.) Maybe it was racy in its day, maybe it was intended to unmask the hitherto glamorous-seeming life of young career women, although the final disposition of the heroine belies that, and all the other girls in the novel end up either happily married, or dead. Partway through, I seemed to feel one of the plot lines resonating from a movie I once saw starring Joan Crawford, so I believe it was adapted for the screen. Sometimes you need something essentially mindless so you can escape, this is very good quality escapism.
lizchris on LibraryThing 11 months ago
This is the story of four women in 1950s New York, working in a publisher's office while leading complex private lives.I came to this through Mad Men and felt that some of the female characters in the TV show must have been influenced by this book. I found real authenticity in the stories of women's working and after-work social lives, the practicalities of living in the city, how relationships with family back home change over time. But the writing was a little uneven; and the descriptions of loving conversations and sexual encounters which we really need to believe in were bordering on the melodramatic.Well worth a read though - especially if you love Peggy and Joan in Mad Men.
elkiedee on LibraryThing 11 months ago
"Fiction places people where they belong in society. There is no such thing he said as a dated novel. The novel set in a particular time gives a picture of that time with all the details of life as it was lived then." (Elizabeth Jolley)The Best of Everything is the story of four young women living and working in New York City - their jobs, their living conditions and their love lives. It was first published in 1958, and its subject matter and form have both been used in many popular novels aimed at a female audience since then. Can Rona Jaffe be described as the mother of modern chicklit? Yes, I think she can. Is this book worth a read? I thought so, both because it is quite enjoyable and for its depiction of the time when it was written and set.Caroline, April, Gregg and Barbara are all in their early 20s, working as secretaries for Fabian, publisher of commercial fiction and magazines. Caroline has a degree, Barbara's education has been interrupted by early marriage, motherhood and divorce, and the other two have theatrical aspirations.Jaffe dissects the ins and outs of office life with detailed observations about how things work, an interest in how her characters interact and flashes of sharp wit. There is a dragon boss, a woman who will do nothing to help other women in the workplace, and a lecherous creep who recognises Caroline's ability and promotes her to a role as reader and later a junior editor even though she rejects his sexual advances in no uncertain terms.I found the lives of the characters outside work a lot less satisfying. This was an era when women were judged by their success in getting married (and preferably hanging on to the husband). I thought the way in which Gregg and April totally demeaned themselves in front of the men they had relationships with was probably realistic but found it all incredibly irritating. Caroline and Barbara were less pathetic, but at this time women who weren't married by the age of 25 would have been seen as failures, no matter what they were doing at work. Jaffe writes openly about women having sex outside of marriage including extra-marital affairs - her characters are not presented as immoral although sometimes they are obviously deluded. At work and in their love lives, these women's stories showed the need for the women's liberation movement of the 1960s, and the effect that wave of feminism has had on women's lives even for women who don't consider themselves feminist.My favourite of the 4 characters was Caroline, who is bright and opinionated, and although she wants love as much as any of her colleagues and friends, is not prepared to settle for any old unsatisfactory compromise.This Penguin edition of the novel includes an introduction written by the author for a US reprint in 2005 (she died a few months later) in which she described how she came to write the book. She worked in publishing and a man talked about a 1940 bestseller by a man about women, and wanting to write something as good, or at least, as successful. Jaffe read the book mentioned and felt that it was not at all a realistic portrait of women's lives, and that she could do better. She confidently proclaimed that she could write a novel herself, and started to do so. Interestingly, she interviewed lots of women about their lives and views on things and drew on this in her novel - how many modern chicklit authors can claim they do so much research into what makes their heroines tick? The inclusion of this introduction was a great touch in the presentation of the novel.I found this an engaging and memorable read and a valuable period piece, and have found myself looking for some of Rona Jaffe's 15 other novels. Recommended. I received a free copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program.
Yarrow on LibraryThing 11 months ago
I was really enjoying this book, all the characters, the interweaving plots and the debate about the conflict of marriage and career, and then I got to the end. Now I can't think about the book without the crushing sense of disappointment hitting me when I think about my favourite character just seeming to give up. It's a capricious way of judging a book I know, but I can't help it.
emigre on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great read, really revealing look at four 20-something women's lives and relationships in 1950s New York. The women all work in publishing or once did, each woman is unique and represented a different way to live. It's scary how much publishing hasn't changed in 50-plus years. The sexual harassment may be better, but the crazy bosses and the women-centric atmosphere remained. Only flaw is the pace in some parts, could have been tightened up. The foreword said the manucript was not touched except for spelling and grammar, maybe that's why.
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