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.
Trying to build his own life while living on a shoestring in Harlem and flirting with his beautiful roommate keeps Noah busy enough, but the needs of the glamorous, struggling Thayer kids and the inappropriate advances of their mother prove all-consuming. As deadlines for college admissions near and the SAT tension builds, Noah finds himself presented with a Faustian bargain, and he must make a moral decision that will affect him and his students for years to come.
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.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Sold by:||SIMON & SCHUSTER|
|File size:||354 KB|
About the Author
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