Everyone Worth Knowing
Although “everyone worth knowing” may have gotten a mention in this book, whether by name or thinly disguised pseudonym, the book isn’t necessarily on the list of “everything worth reading”. Weisberger’s second novel could reasonably be expected to improve on the flaws of her 2003 debut, The Devil Wears Prada, showing the extent of the author’s potential, but unfortunately, similar shortcomings are repeated in Everyone Worth Knowing, making Prada actually better with its stronger – such as it was – plotline.
Bette (like Midler, not Davis), the protagonist, lives in New York where she took a dreary job in banking minutes after graduating from Emory as an English major, and where she has spent the last five of her 27 years. The day that her boss, a clone of Lumbergh from Office Space, pushed her just too far with the inspirational emails and the cutesy phrases, she walked out of her job with no plan for the future in sight. After a period of half-hearted job searching, sleeping late, and candy eating (yet still somehow losing weight), Bette’s uncle called in a favor and got her a job in PR with an event planning firm. As in TDWP, the job immediately takes over Bette’s life, forcing her to abandon her friends and family, and she also gains a certain (unfounded) reputation in the society pages that even her hippie parents back in Poughkeepsie hear about.
A lack of realistic behavior on Bette’s part, based on what the reader finds out about her, detracts from the plot. Her parents raised her to be an independent individual with high integrity, yet many of Bette’s actions are her just going along with what she’s been told to do or what she thinks is expected. The very observational viewpoint contributes to this as well, with much of the book seeming like a description of the PR job, rather than Bette’s opinions or feelings. Like many Chick Lit bosses and coworkers, these people make absurd demands on Bette’s time and are slaves to fashion, but Bette doesn’t seem to react to this. While you can’t necessarily tell your boss to go to hell when she calls you at all hours and expects infinite hours of work, you can at least call your coworker on the absurdity of her obsession with the Hermes Birkin bag, instead of buying into it all on your first day on the job.
Thanks to Bette’s lack of self-awareness, she doesn’t have much of an epiphany during the course of the book (see The Right Address or Citizen Girl – by the authors of The Nanny Diaries – for stronger examples of this: Girl felt uncomfortable with her job for some time, which came across clearly in the writing. Due to Weisberger’s style of writing in a more detached tone, Bette’s feelings for her job aren’t always apparent. Girl felt locked in but at least had the self-awareness to know there was more out there, while Melanie in The Right Address is admirable for going after what she thought she wanted, and at least she had discernible goals, shallow as they were.).
One of the good points of the book is Bette’s passion for romance novels, and the fact that she belongs to a book club that meets to discuss them. She has even bravely “come out” to her family and friends, and is generally outwardly unapologetic to them for her tastes, although I got the impression that she still feels like she should be enjoying “higher forms” of literature. But I also feel like Weisberger is directing the lecture (including statistics on romance novel readers) to the “general”, non-romance reading audience, as if they were somehow separate from the bonbon-eating housewives. Also, by the end of the book, Bette decides to become a romance novelist, but we’ve never seen her actually write anything in general or seem to enjoy writing, although she was an English major.
And finally, the romantic interest. Sammy is a bouncer that Bette keeps running into, although they got off on the wrong foot. He seems like a great guy in general, intelligent and talented, but I don’t quite believe that they have much in common besides attraction and proximity. Bette even muses that they are clearly meant to be together, but there’s not really any evidence of this, apart from Sammy’s hotness.
Bette’s main problem seems to be that she is lacking in ambition. Not that it’s rare to be uncertain of where you want your life to take you, but it would be more believable if she had considered more possibilities for the future – does she want to stay in New York? What kind of people does she enjoy being around? It seems like she’s defined more by the negatives (hating banking) than the positives.
Secondary characters are a solid mix of the interesting and the two-dimensional. The boss is actually nice, although demanding, and is not in the picture a lot, and the coworkers are mainly stick-skinny partiers. Bette’s best friends Penelope and Michael are interesting and have apparent personal lives, but are not in the picture a lot. Bette’s hippie parents are entertaining, but would have to be played in the movie by Dharma’s parents from Dharma and Greg, while Penelope’s parents are the rich Montgomerys, Greg’s parents.
This is an interesting book that nonetheless misses the mark by a few critical inches. I stayed up until the wee hours when I started to read it, and finished it the next night, but Weisberger’s potential is what really kept me going. Maybe next time she’ll finally reach it.