Much-mourned Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein pinned her first (and now, alas, only) novel on a Strunk & White aphorism: "Style not only reveals the spirit of the man but reveals his identity." With the sure hand of a veteran dramatist, she draws out the emotions of wealthy Manhattanites as they cope with post-September 11th uncertainties. As always, Wasserstein's writing calls for full ensemble participation; and as always, the voices reverberate long after the action is done.
By the end of the book, no amount of shopping and skiing and sleeping around has kept the darkness at bay. One character is a casualty of violence. Another becomes mortally ill and makes stealth visits to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (where Ms. Wasserstein died) in a limousine. Elements of Style is both a blithe, funny feat of escapism and a sobering reminder of the inescapable.
The New York Times
Readers who haven't seen Wasserstein's plays might wonder if Elements of Style was meant to celebrate or satirize high society and its trappings. But we have seen them, and we know. We trust that a dear playwright-friend of hers will take this work from page to stage, with luminous results.
The Washington Post
Nixon (Sex and the City) crafts tones and speech patterns for Wasserstein's Upper East Side rich and famous that simultaneously satirize and humanize them. She manages to individualize characters who are, finally, too stereotypic to hold up. Their egotism grows annoying, their race and class attitudes predictable, their divorces and mate swaps dreary. It's difficult to know whether to fault the author or the abridger, though one has no sense of missing sections or passages. All that said, this is Wendy Wasserstein writing. From the double entendre of the title-literary craft vs. fashion and social climbing-we enjoy the irony, humor and moral outrage that move like undertow. Janet Maslin aptly described the book as "chick lit with a chill and a pedigree," and Nixon makes the most of the best of Wasserstein's writing. Wasserstein's plays are superb; her first (and, sadly, only) novel, while entertaining, falls short. With her wicked wit, emotional and sociological insight, and perfect ear for dialogue, she would surely have written many more marvelous plays and, no doubt, some wonderful novels. What a loss! Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, Jan. 16). (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
In the wake of 9/11, New York City's A-list socialites struggle to find meaning in their lives even while they continue to worry over what to serve at their dinner parties. The colorful cast of characters includes style-setting Samantha, who suffers from self-esteem issues; Judy, a carb-abstaining gossip, whose social machinations make up a full-time job; and Clarice, who lists among her accomplishments the keeping of a steady supply of her husband's favorite English muffins at each of their four homes. The more narcissistic characters are balanced by Frankie Weissman, the down-to-earth pediatrician who treats the children of the rich and famous but is not affected by their excessive lifestyles. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wasserstein (The Heidi Chronicles), who died just before the publication of this first novel, has done a good job of simultaneously poking fun at high society and evoking the anxiety of maintaining a perfect image, capturing a world that is at once fascinating, appalling, and amusing. Chock-full of shopping, mansions, spa treatments, and fine dining, it is a sensuous read, but Wasserstein's ironic perspective saves it from being merely decadent. Recommended for popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/05.]-Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA Short stories Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-Young women, in particular, will revel in this tongue-in-cheek, thoroughly satirical depiction of post-9/11 New York society. Wasserstein's skill as a playwright is evident through the witty dialogue and farcical situations she used to create her deeply shallow, largely revolting characters. Inane values, a terrorist bombing, an accidental death, and a debilitating illness compose the dark elements of the novel, initially obscured by the author's light writing style. Our mutual vulnerability to these situations, she reminds readers, is beyond what money, power, and beauty can control. Society pediatrician Frankie Weissman, a compassionate and selfless individual, provides the perfect foil for the thoroughly unlikable primary characters. Frankie is Wasserstein's hero. Perhaps she is Wasserstein herself. This novel is about recognizing what is and who are worth loving.-Claudia C. Holland, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
In her first and only novel, the recently deceased Wasserstein (Shiksa Goddess, 2001, etc.) chronicles the lives, loves and sartorial choices of Manhattan's moneyed class. Frankie Weissman is the Upper East Side's favorite pediatrician. Samantha Acton is a beauty with an impeccable pedigree. Judy Tremont is a spunky social climber. Barry Santorini is a movie producer who never misses a chance to remind people that he was once a poor kid from South Philly and that he's rich and powerful now. These are just a few of the well-to-do Manhattanites in this overpopulated book. Unfortunately, no character is given sufficient space to develop as a real person, and there's no strong narrative perspective to turn any of the stories into more than the sum of their parts. There are a few moments of sharply observed detail-Judy Tremont's favorite snack is "four soybeans, for protein, and a chocolate chip, for fun"-but they're few and far between. The story veers between the tragic and the trivial in a way that is merely disharmonious rather than revelatory. Frankie's father's Alzheimer's sits in uneasy juxtaposition with dissections of who's wearing what at a benefit gala. Characters occasionally mention the anxieties of living in post-9/11 New York, but the main impact of that event seems to be spending a Christmas in Palm Beach instead of traveling abroad. A deadly bomb attack on a Starbucks comes off as gratuitous. Ultimately, the reader is presented with notes toward a novel rather than being a completed one. Is this a farcical send-up of New York's elite, or is it earnestly sympathetic women's fiction? The reader never knows, because the author doesn't either. This will not be remembered as animportant part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright's oeuvre. First printing of 100,000
"Chick-lit with a chill and a pedigree. . . . A blithe, funny feat of escapism and a sobering reminder of the inescapable." —The New York Times“Wasserstein had the rare ability to be sardonic and compassionate at once." —The New Yorker"A modern-day Jane Austen." —Chicago Sun-Times“Wasserstein’s smart, funny sensibility bubbles up on almost every page.” —The Miami Herald