Friday, February 18, 2011

Emily Ever After

Because this book seems overall to be a good-faith (pun intended) effort on the part of its two authors, Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt, I'm a bit sorry that it left me so utterly indifferent. The story, of Christian Emily's experiences trying to work in publishing in big bad amoral New York, is the sort of thing that might, and clearly did, make some agent and publisher say, "Well, that's kind of fresh, let's go with it." (Of course, since both authors work for a publishing house, it would be disingenuous to suppose that they faced the same type of barriers to their literary ambitions as the average chick lit novelists.)

Unfortunately, that's where the freshness ends. I'd like to go all reviewerly at this point and maunder about the novel's subtext, but there's nothing subtextual, subtle, or otherwise sub- about this book. Practicing Christians have a stronger attachment to traditional moral values than the average hard-drinking gold-digging New York socialite, according to Dayton and Vanderbilt. Okay. The rest of the book's messages are on about the same level of groundbreaking novelty.

Equally new and exciting are the characterizations, which vary from one-dimensional to dull, depending on the number of lines of dialogue a character gets. The only character who sparked a moment's interest was Emily's boss, who shows up at work on Halloween in a full Darth Vader costume and persists in speaking in movie quotes all day. I'd have liked him for that if he wasn't such a platitude-spewing tool the rest of the time, and also the vehicle for one of the book's several yawn-inducing plot twists.

My greatest disappointment with the novel, though, was Emily's background. She's a conservative Christian from southern California, an exemplar of a real group that's rarely depicted in contemporary fiction; I was born and raised in southern California, I was homeschooled, several of my close family members attend church regularly, and I grew up with kids who, like Emily, were the children of hippies-cum-Christians. In other words, I know of what the authors speak. But it's clear that the authors don't, because the Emily they depict is so utterly lacking in the type of socialization that anyone, and I do mean anyone, would get growing up in SoCal. My conservative, Christian, high-school-aged sister has a subscription to Vogue - this in a household without TV, video games, cursing, or permitted dating - and this, along with many other anecdotes I could offer, makes it seem ludicrously unlikely that Emily would have thought khakis and a pink sweater with black Oxfords would be a hip bar-going outfit, as she does near the beginning of the book.

In other words, the main character is a poorly-drawn cliche who reflects little of the real culture from which she was supposedly drawn. Now, if Emily had shown up at the bar in a Darth Vader costume, this would have been a much cooler book.

I would give this book two stars, except that it's written in the present tense. One star.

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