"Now, as unflinching as Dante, the irrepressible Laurence Leamer . . . has turned his attention to the society in which he luxuriates most winters. Social lepidopterist that he is, in the 300-plus pages of Madness Under the Royal Palms Leamer pins out that gaudy, conflicted community like cornered butterflies fluttering, hectic and doomed."
"Leamer meticulously paints the kind of frenzied desire to belong to the club, literally and metaphorically, that led people to abandon most principles."
Leamer (The Kennedy Women) reveals the secrets of the Palm Beach elite who reside behind the high walls and manicured hedges of this exclusive enclave. A winter resident since 1994, the author gains the trust of his subjects, playing tennis with them and attending their parties. Such firsthand experience is supplemented by newspaper articles and interviews with scores of men and women who, although usually guarded, are unusually open to Leamer (the informant for the chapter "Palm Beach Millionaire Seeks Playmate" gave the author access to his personal papers, including unpublished memoirs). The book's highly visual vignettes-dominated by divorce, infidelity, excessive drinking and violence-produce a depressing picture of sad, angry, insecure and frequently nasty people hiding behind empty smiles, luxury cars and socially invisible servants. Leamer reflects: "Like [Henry] James, I found that few of the lives have the beauty of the surroundings, or the depths of the artistic vision that inspired this island." Some readers may find this book a penetrating portrayal of a privileged segment of the American population; others might regard it as a book-length gossip column. (Feb.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Palm Beach, FL, is a resort town for the superwealthy, where outsiders are clearly not welcomed, as evidenced by such facts as that its beautiful, pristine beaches do not provide access to public bathrooms and there are no chain stores and outlets along its boulevards, just the likes of Tiffany's and Louis Vuitton. Leamer (The Kennedy Women), a resident of Palm Beach, describes the private lives of many of the town's wealthy inhabitants. In chapter after chapter, and story after story, he details how the city is really one big soap opera ruled by a number of matriarchs who inherited their money by marrying wealthy, older men who are now deceased. In turn, these aging trophy wives now pursue private lives with gigolos and public lives in the island's society pages. The recent influx has led to a conflict between those with "new" money and the WASPS who once dominated the island. Although Madness provides a number of sociological insights about the private lives of wealthy people and social class etiquette, this book will appeal mainly to fans of tabloid gossip.
Gossipy, depressing chronicle of ossified Florida high society. Nonfiction vet Leamer (Fantastic: the Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2005, etc.) moved with his wife to Palm Beach in 1994. Long a miner of celebrity gossip for his books, he found himself sinking deeper and deeper into the snobbish, wealth-soaked milieus of both Palm Beaches-one dominated by Protestants, the other by Jews. The two sometimes meet, but only superficially and rarely without resentment. Selecting from hundreds of potential protagonists, the author settles on about a dozen, alternating their sagas with sweeping observations about what he sees as a unique social setting. Some of the story lines involve suicide, some murder. Most of the rest portray poorly matched couples of wealthy, vain old men and ambitious young women trying either to claw their way to the top of Palm Beach society or to retain their hegemony over it. The overarching theme is that egregious wealth never buys happiness, at least not for long. Leamer injects himself into the narrative frequently. He observes the gala events, sometimes as an invited guest. He becomes a confidant of certain Palm Beach queens and kings-female and male, heterosexual and homosexual, those born rich and those who have married into wealth. To his credit, he almost always uses real names and immediately informs readers when employing a pseudonym. Stars and supporting players alike are either relentlessly mean or utterly hapless. Leamer conveys the bizarre absurdity of it all, as when an exclusive club makes grudging adjustments to its rigid code regarding the physical appearance of guests in order to accommodate members' tattoo-sporting or bodily pierced grandchildren.Required to place Band-Aids over the offending markings, "a young guest enters the dining room so swathed in bandages that she looks as if she has just left intensive care."A professionally reported account, but it's difficult to imagine an audience other than those with a pre-existing personal interest in Palm Beach. Author events in New York, Palm Beach, Florida
"Madness offers buckets of heart-warmimg Schadenfreude for all." The Washington Post