One of my best friends thought I would like All is Vanity, by Christina Schwartz. She told me it was about an aspiring writer who rips off her friend’s life and creates a novel out of it.
I wondered if my friend was feeling…concerned?
The author developed the character, Margaret, as an over achieving, self-centered egotist – and she did a fabulous job of it. So many subtle inner thoughts of how fantastically wonderful she is for doing such and such a thing, and so forth. It was painful to watch her spiral deeper into self denial (in the same way I find it painful to watch The Office) and procrastination.
The story begins with her quitting her job to write the “great American novel.” The fact that she has never written anything – no blog, no short stories, no drafts, nothing! – seems to not matter to her. And what’s more, is that her husband goes along with this plan. I know it sounds unbelievable, but trust me that given their two personalities, it works.
As expected, Margaret runs into writer’s block, and can’t even get her story off the ground. She seems to miss the number one rule of writing, which is to write what you know, and decides to create a story about a Vietnam Vet named Robert who comes home from the war. This is about the furthest you can get from her own circumstances. He ends up doing a lot of cooking, because that’s about all she can relate to in his character.
Like I said, it’s so painful in that “how bad is it really going to get?” kind of hilarious way.
Several month in to the project, when all she has are a bunch of random notes about character, she realizes an interesting story is brewing in her email exchanges with her best friend on the opposite coast. Her novel – and her conscience – takes a turn for her benefit.
And I will leave you with that so as to not spoil the story!
As an aside, I’ve seen the term “chick lit” used around Shelfari and other book communities. And while I had a pretty good clue that it referred to books with a female audience in mind, I am now also cluing in that these books are pretty light and easy to read. They don’t require a lot of chewing or mulling. I don’t need to put it down after each paragraph just so I can absorb all the ways that one paragraph has changed my life.
After reading mostly books with such depth and seriousness, I am enjoying the less meaty “chick lit” options. I would classify All is Vanity as “chick lit.” It’s funny, it’s serious, it makes you think, but you can also read it while driving to your brother’s house amidst five million interruptions to “watch this mom!” requests.