“Prepare yourself for a daring, unsparing takedown of millennial Manhattan, trick by glossy trick.” Beatriz Williams
We are a bifurcated generation, the Romantics versus the Realists: those who prefer transistor radios to Bose sound systems, scuffed ocean liner trunks to gleaming Rimowa hard shells, fountain pens to BlackBerry keyboards, restored old roadsters to eco-friendly hybrids, the unsmudgeable guarantee of old illusions to present-life ones, tinny and certain to disappoint.
When M. meets Belle at Dartmouth, they become the unlikeliest best friends. Belle is an unapologetic Romantic famous on campus for her bright red accessories and hundred-watt smile, while M. is a tomboyish Realist who insists she’ll always prefer her signet ring to any diamond. Despite their differences, they are drawn together, and after graduation they both move to New York with all the unfounded confidence of twenty-two. M. secures a job at the city’s most prestigious investment bank, and Belle turns her nostalgic aesthetic into one of the first lifestyle blogs, which quickly goes viral. Their future is spread before them, a glittering tableau of vintage cocktails, password-guarded parties, and high-octane ambition. But as they are pulled deeper into their new lives, and into the charming orbit of their Gatsby-esque new friend, Jeremy, style and substanceand dreams and realityincreasingly blur. In this fake plastic world, what do success and love and happiness even look like?
Dazzling, whimsical, and full of yearning, Fake Plastic Love is the transporting story of bright young things tested by the unsentimental realities of post-graduate life. Tipping its hat to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Kimberley Tait’s gorgeous, incisive debut is a portrait of millennial Manhattanequal parts nostalgia and modernitythat explores the timeless question: You will be a grand total of what you spend your time doing, so what do you want to add up to?
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IN THE BRIDAL SUITE
I hear bars of a Glenn Miller big band serenade float dreamily along the corridor, swooping up then down under the mahogany door into my suite, suggesting brightly motioning, monogrammed cigarette holders and ever-widening green eyes and fizzing champagne cocktails. Somewhere in another room, on another floor, a medley of clarinets and muted trumpets and the light trill of fingers along the upper keys of an old Steinway Grand tell the richer, warmer tale of an era long gone and irreplaceable. Inside the suite, someone has lined up bottles of bubbly dutifully along a sideboard to my left. A precocious few are already open and ready to transport a group of invisible imbibers, a boisterous wedding party that doesn't actually exist. I steal a glance at the bottles, counting a total of six. Who exactly is supposed to down them? The makeup artist pressed in front of me grumbles as I've ignored her instructions to keep my lids closed. I can't close them yet, because now I've caught sight of an alien object, white and ethereal, levitating somewhere to my right. I turn my head and blink to realize it's my dress — of course, my wedding dress! — hanging inches away in perfectly pressed silk shantung, its waist adorned by a geometric bow that will be, now that I think about it, the first bow I've worn since I was pigtailed at age six. Another exasperated sigh from the makeup artist and I straighten my head and close my lids obediently, but wriggle my nose in discomfort. I'm not used to being lacquered like this.
"This is the happiest day of your life!" my mother cries, bursting into the suite. She is propelled by another piano trill and a gust of frankly-I-told-you-so triumph. Fluttering momentarily near the champagne bottles, she frowns. (I can hear her internal monologue now: This would have been the right number of bottles if you had chosen to have a conventional wedding party, dear — emphasis pressed firmly on the word conventional.) Thankfully, she shakes off the gloomy thought and happily splashes a pair of coupes full with the bubbly stuff. She pours a particularly generous coupe for herself and, as shafts of light stream in through the sheer curtains from the shifting skies above Vanderbilt Avenue, the pink sets fire, transforming into a dazzling scepter for my mother to wave in front of herself. She stops her waving momentarily to extend a more modest coupe in my direction. As I accept it, I see one pink bubble abandon ship, bouncing out of the glass in a rebellious arc — through the window and across the street to catch the 12:37 from Grand Central Terminal heading north for a properly merry lawn party in Greenwich, Connecticut, where she can mingle with some gentlemanly mint juleps. I am happy for the little pink bubble and for her impulse and her abandon — qualities I have had a deficit of in my life but am working on making up for now.
"Come on, darling, have a splash of pink! You are looking far too serious for your wedding day."
Despite my too serious looks — a criticism I have been plagued with most of my life — I really am thrilled. Just a passing thought of my groom unleashes a net of butterflies to fly in a dizzying race of figure eights around my stomach. But as the bride I'm all too aware that I will be the focal point of one hundred pairs of blinking eyes turning in unison to face me at the door of the church in a matter of sixty minutes. This is fantastically foreign territory. I've really only ever been comfortable being on display with racquet in hand, shoelaces double-knotted, charging around a squash court. I would have voted for a no-fuss trip down to City Hall followed by an intimate dinner here at The Vanderbilt Club, but the mere suggestion of something that informal would have crushed my mother. She believes a wedding day is one of the crowning moments of a woman's life and that shining in an appropriate way, in an appropriate dress and setting, will determine the course of all that follows. Women who don't take their wedding day seriously might as well flush everything down the toilet. To my surprise, maybe only to keep feathers unruffled, my groom sided with my mother, meaning they beat me squarely, two against one. In less than an hour now we'll be married farther uptown at St. James' Church followed by a reception in The Vanderbilt's grand ballroom.
The artist exhales wearily at the champagne disruption and disappears into another room in search of some missing beauty product — or a miracle pill that will make it easier for her to deal with the two of us. My mother now has her back to me, cradling a telephone with both hands as she calls down to the front desk with some urgent, eleventh-hour request. Now is my chance. When the makeup artist planted me in this armchair, I tucked a postcard into the crevice alongside the cushion, out of my mother's sight where I knew it would be plucked away or soaked through by another sloshing pink coupe. I extract it and turn it over in my hands, bringing it within a few inches of my nose to scrutinize every last pixel and letter loop. Its front features a fleet of crayon-colored hot air balloons — dozens of bygone and beautiful flying machines, perfectly scattered and floating up into an apricot dawn. The word TURKEY is typed cleanly along the bottom edge of the card. On the back, a message is scrawled in romantic cursive, the letters tilted right at an encouraging angle:
Greetings from Cappadocia where I've decided to hang my hat for a little while. I have a good gig running balloon trips for sightseers, floating them over the ancient caves and fairy chimneys, all millions of years old. You know I've always had a soft spot for tour guiding. They call this magical place the Love Valley. Would you be surprised to hear I feel a strange connection with it? Only three months until your Big Day, M., and I am sorrier than I can say that I can't be there. But I'll be thinking of you from up in the sky and I'll be smiling, knowing that after so many years you finally agree with me: life, and everything in it, is a Great Love Story and nothing more.
Flying on — but always your faithful friend, Jeremy
I'm hoping if I look at the postcard long enough, the balloons or the handwriting will rearrange themselves into a clue or a distress cry or an assurance — something that will tell me how everything turned out for my friend Jeremy Kirby. Something that will tell me if he needs my help. But I can't find a hint of anything. And so my thoughts cluster and cloud into a sooty specter that hovers a few feet above me, sprinkling coarse black particles on top of my happy day — and my happiness.
Nostalgic melodies continue to echo down the hall and under the door, drifting from Glenn Miller onto Cole Porter: "... Do you love me, as I love you?" And suddenly my spine straightens an inch as I remember what I'm listening to. Someone is testing a gramophone one floor up in The Vanderbilt's grand ballroom — a green-horned music machine that was motored down years ago from a grandfather's cabin in the Adirondacks, then dusted off and repaired and later anointed to play the swoon of our first dance. "Are you my life-to-be, my dream come true?" With each gust of the gramophone, its romantic tune turns longing and ghostly as it winds through these Club hallways. My mother has vanished next door to change into her wedding day outfit, fumbling with a brooch and issuing incomprehensible noises.
I'm still looking down at Jeremy's postcard, flat and tantalizing in my hands. It's the last card he sent me and is so evocative of him that it seems to be glowing, soft and golden and half-haunted. We can torment ourselves asking what became of a person we love — where they are, who they are with, whether they have found or created a happy ending. I've been tormenting myself in that way ever since Jeremy's postcards came to a halt three months ago. Ever since an article appeared in my FT Weekend just last week, planting an ominous clue about what might have happened to him. I've been doing my best to turn all of that speculation and gloom into something more positive — something more productive. I'm trying to channel and carry forward the best of what Jeremy gave me before he left.
When his postcards stopped, I started casting him as the leading man in recurring dreams I now have almost nightly. In each one he wears different costumes, he inhabits different continents, he dwells in different times — but he always assumes the role of protagonist, of champion, of savior. The night before my wedding was no exception and my dream is still with me, tingeing the bridal suite air around me a smoky and sorrowful blue. It was dawn. I was flying a hang glider of all things and slalomed through the air a thousand feet above the ancient rock of Cappadocia, still and slumbering in the earliest moments of day. The world swept out below me — great smears of violets and reds and yellows and darks. I was chasing a lone hot air balloon that drifted fifty feet ahead of me, journeying along in a Turkish breeze that I knew was heading south in the direction of Syria. The balloon was an indigo blue peppered with a hopeful constellation of silver stars. It carried a single man, whose silhouette stretched out optimistically over the wicker basket's edge, searching the horizon with a pair of binoculars.
"Jeremy!" I called to the figure from my glider but felt my cry swarmed and swallowed up by the altitude as soon as it escaped my mouth. How would I reach him? How could I get through to him? "Is this the right way? Are we going the right way? Jeremy!" Against all likelihood he heard me — there was some movement in the basket as he scrambled to the other side and peered down at me, his binoculars dangling jauntily around his neck.
"Yes!" Jeremy answered, his voice a bright flurry of confetti tossed in my direction. "Don't worry about a thing! I've mapped out a route to the moon and I'm going up there to find her! I don't know how long it will take me but I promise I'm going to find her. I'll pick her up and bring her right back!"
"I know you will!" I yelled, believing him with every fiber of my being. The right corner of my mouth trembled, and I couldn't tell if it was the start of a smile or the precursing pull of tears. Jeremy Kirby had never been a superhero. If he had been one, he would have looked more like a Peter Parker than a Clark Kent. Either way, when he came into your life and his brown eyes locked on yours so earnestly, you knew that it wasn't what he would do but how hard he would try to do it that made him so extraordinary. "It's what you were born to do! It's what she's really wanted — it's what she's been waiting for all along!" He smiled at me from above, an aura of fondness and friendship illuminating him, and lifted one palm toward me — part wave, part salute. I desperately wanted to reciprocate his gesture but was frozen, knowing that if I let go of my glider and raised my hand, I'd plummet a thousand feet down and break apart on the rocks below. Keeping his palm in the air, he reached up with his other hand and turned a knob that sent a long and lean flame firing upward into his balloon, lifting him up and whisking him off on a fresh current away from me — a wash of silver stars bound straight for the moon.
"Have a sip, dear," my mother implores, startling me out of my dreamscape. She has returned from the other room, sparkling and dressed and disturbingly staccato in her movements, and without warning plucks the postcard from my hand and extends a winking pink coupe toward me in its place.
"Mom, I need that," I say to her with surprising sharpness, reaching ahead to reclaim my card. The offered coupe tips precariously to the right then left then right again. Sensing danger, a new, wayward flock of pink bubbles confers and flees out the window and across the street to catch the next train north.
"Darling, this is hardly the time for personal correspondence. You can write as many postcards as you'd like on your honeymoon." My brow is furrowed and I lean forward to take another swing at the card as she places it out of arm's reach on the sideboard next to the remaining champagne bottles. "You know, if you had bridesmaids, they could have handled all of these trivial sorts of things for you today."
To her great dismay I have no bridesmaids. I agreed to a bigger wedding, but I still insisted on doing a few things my way, which means there is no wedding party. My mother would have undoubtedly cast Belle Bailey as maid of honor, that much I know, and in my heart I feel the soft indentation of regret that I couldn't do it — that I had to shut her out. Of course I had to field a legion of questions from my mother about my decision — why Belle wouldn't be my wedding day right-hand woman, why she will not be with us as even a guest today. We've grown too far apart was all I could say as bewilderment gripped my mother's face. A wedding exposes everything, but it explains very little.
Later in the church, partly out of habit, partly for old times' sake, I know I'll still look into the congregation for hints of Belle's incandescence, for her signature splash of red — the plume of a fascinator, the forward tip of a hat brim, the bright stain of doll-like lips. More than anything, I will be looking for Jeremy's hallmarks — the sheen of his beeswaxed head, the poetic bloom of the buttonhole in his lapel. I will not see any of that. Belle will not be there. Jeremy is God only knows where — a half a world or a constellation away. I know it's an idiot's game to try and predict or control other people. But we can always control ourselves. So I close my eyes and take a deep breath and focus inward, trying to remember my promise: today will be one day, after all of these years, that will finally be about me.CHAPTER 2
I know it isn't standard form to be distracted by a man who isn't your fiancé an hour before getting married — but I have a good reason that's worth explaining. I've always made a point of doing things at my own pace, in my own time. For example, it took me until age thirty to finally assuage my mother's greatest, soul-rattling fear that I would never marry. She planted her first urgent seed on the topic at O'Hare Airport, seeing me off on my Boston-bound flight to start my freshman year at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. I'm not sure what a mother is supposed to say to a daughter when she leaves home to begin undergraduate life. Mine yanked me back just as I was stepping into the airport security line, grasping both of my shoulders and rushing out one pressing instruction:
"Listen to me, button. Whatever you do, find yourself a nice young man before you graduate. One who's going into banking. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?" I struggled in the opposite direction while extending my ID to the security attendant. But he only looked on bemusedly as my mother pulled me back toward her, staring at me with large and alarming eyes:
"Just make sure he has a good head for numbers!"
She tapped an index finger against her temple, indicating the young man's brain in which all of the numbers would dwell and divide and masterfully square root. That gesture lessened her grip on me, and I wrested myself away successfully, spinning off into the security area in a blur of waving hands and neatly packed carry-on bags.
Though it was an unusual way to say good-bye, I knew what she was getting at. Marrying a numbers man had provided stability and reliability in her life, which she valued far more than any kind of personal ambition. My father was ten years her senior and had come of age as a bond man in a presynthetic world — when, I imagined, it was a yawn-inducing, quintessentially steady business of thirty-year yields and even-keeled coupon payments. The eventual ubiquity of opaque and daringly named financial products like naked swaps would have prompted some embarrassed throat clearing from my father, confirming it was time for him to hang up his beloved braces and pinstripes. But his decades of faithfulness to his bank means that in retirement he still provides my mother with a comfortable life in the white-picket-fenced commuter suburb north of Chicago where I grew up. Our family dwelled in that rare and contented state of not wanting even more than we had, so all of this — my father being a numbers man — meant my mother and I never devoted serious thought or worry to the notion of money.
Though I had briefly considered applying to colleges closer to home — Northwestern or the University of Chicago — the pull of the Ivy League was too lush and storied to resist, so I was heading east for my higher education. This pleased my mother to no end. She had always claimed young northeastern men held more promise than midwestern ones, storing it up in the folds of their ever-present pocket squares and tucking it into the shining penny slots of their oxblood Bass Weejuns. Or perhaps she believed they liked numbers more there — for in the east there were more bankers. Dartmouth would be just the place. The new millennium saw it develop an exaggerated reputation as a feeder for the finance industry or, as one attention- seeking alumnus inaccurately described, "a vocational school for investment bankers." When the dark-caped banks swooped down onto campus during senior fall to hatchet their pick of the brightest undergraduate minds, small clusters of cable-knit-sweatered protestors gathered on patchy corners of the campus Green. A nucleus of picketers rooted itself near the entrance to the Hanover Inn, where corporate recruiting interviews took place in the uncomfortable intimacy of suites with four-poster beds overlooking Baker Library. They voiced their disenchantment using homemade cardboard signs in all-cap letters that rewrote the College's romantically charged motto VOX CLAMANTIS IN DESERTO as a question: A VOICE CRYING OUT FOR A BANKING OFFER?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fake Plastic Love"
Copyright © 2017 Kimberley Tait.
Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
In the Bridal Suite,
Handle with Great Care,
Watch Yourself with the Yak-Yak,
The Last True Romantic,
Blue Moons and Red Velvets,
Breakfast at Piggelo's,
Get Saving, Little Guy,
Sabers and Holograms,
Adieu, New York,
The Lost Girl,
Marry a Dartmouth Boy,
The Time-Traveling Belle,
It's a Barnum and Bailey World,
Back in the Bridal Suite,
About the Author,