Tuesday, January 8, 2013

THE DARLINGS by Cristina Alger: Read this if

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Miss me? Well, either way, I'm back, for the moment, after a ridiculously busy open enrollment/holiday season, fresh with impressions of The Darlings by Cristina Alger, a novel that is a rough equivalent of (Gossip Girl + Edith Wharton - romantic drama) x Bernie Madoff + Bonfire of the Vanities + (Damages - murder schemes).

With the elite of the 1% and the financial tailspin of 2008 as subject matter, it would be easy to dismiss this novel as something to avoid, but you really shouldn't. It's a compelling read, driven by the interplay of characters not only from inside the upper echelons of Manhattan "royalty," but also by those lingering on the outside, less mired in glittery facades. Though I was put off by some of the characters in the beginning, many managed to grow on me. None perfect, but none completely villainous either. All human.

The novel reminded me of exactly why I loved New York and exactly why I left, with passages like:
Manhattan was a Darwinian environment: only the strongest survived. The weak, the nice, the naive, the ones who smiled at passersby on the sidewalk, all got weeded out. They would come to New York for a few years after college, rent shoebox apartments in Hell's Kitchen or Murray Hill, work at a bank or wait tables or audition for bit parts in off-off-Broadway productions. They would meet other twentysomethings over after-work drinks at soulless bars in midtown; get laid; get their hearts broken. They would feel themselves becoming impatient, jaded, cynical, rude, anxious, neurotic. They would give up. They would opt out. They would scurry back to their hometowns or to the suburbs or secondary cities like Boston or D.C. or Atlanta, before they had a chance to breed.

The ones who stayed long enough to raise children were the tough ones, the tenacious ones, the goal-oriented ones, the gold-digging ones, the deal-closing ones, the "kill or be killed" ones, the ones who subscribed to the philosophy "whatever it takes." They looked out for themselves and slept with one eye open. Being born in New York wasn't enough to make someone a true New Yorker; it was in the blood, like a hormone, or a virus.
The passage carries some truth - NYC is definitely not the center of the universe, but it is not for the laid-back or the realistic - there comes a point that the chaos crosses the line between energizing and exhausting. The novel shows that even the uber-privileged and the driven are not immune to finding themselves on the exhausted side of the line.

To summarize, you should read this novel if:
  • You love New York.
  • You hate New York.
  • You love to hate New York.
  • You hate to love New York.
  • You are secretly addicted to Gossip Girl and reruns of all iterations of Law & Order.
  • Most of your friends are lawyers, bankers or journalists. You might be one as well. Or you might as well be one.
  • You like fast-paced novels that take place over a very short period of time (in this case, less than a week).
Don't read this if:
  • You think the very privileged are cluelessly inhuman, and could not possibly be swayed otherwise.
  • You are easily confused by novels told from many points of view.
  • You don't like the pace of a novel interrupted with back-story.
  • You couldn't possibly relate to someone that considered clothes from Brooks Brothers as ill-fitting, off-the-rack attire.
  • You are secretly addicted to Little House on the Prairie and The Brady Bunch reruns. (I know. I'm dated. Apparently I need to watch more TV.)
  • You are looking for something light-hearted and humorous.

*I received this book from the publisher (Penguin Books) in exchange for my honest review.
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