Review

Wolves in Chic Clothing

Carrie Karasyov and Jill Kargman



Sometimes I feel the world moves too fast for me. Honestly, it
seems like just yesterday I was one of the last voracious-reading,
Vogue-subscribing women to discover Chick Lit. It was Sophie
Kinsella's Shopaholic series that changed me from a critic of the
genre to a fan, although I guess we could really trace it the whole
way back to Helen Fielding and her every woman's hero, Bridget
Jones. But I digress. From Kinsella I zoomed on to Weiner and Wolf,
Keyes and Zigman, spending an entire summer month flitting from one
book to the next. I even came out of the closet and reviewed
several Chick Lit books for a local newspaper, declaring my love
for this previously forbidden (in my eyes) fruit.

Suddenly, Chick Lit has taken a back burner to the latest media
darling --- Gossip Lit. In a way, it started with Shopaholic Becky
Bloomwood's penchant for fashion; the pages dripped with names from
both magazine and runway. And who can forget Weiner's Maggie and
her addiction to Manolos? THE NANNY DIARIES came next and started
naming not just designers, but the doyennes of the Upper East Side
who couldn't be bothered with mothering the heirs they were forced
to bear. (Some City residents at the time swore they knew who the
real Mrs. X was.) THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and its loosely veiled Anna
Wintour trash-fest upped the ante, and now the people we read about
in the pages of Vogue were actually showing up in fiction --- never
directly outed, mind you, but I'm sure that armed with the vivid
descriptions the books provided, it was all too easy for those in
the know to know who was being, you know, trashed.

Enter Carrie Karasyov and Jill Kargman. They are the co-authors of
last year's fun read, THE RIGHT ADDRESS. This spring they are back
with WOLVES IN CHIC CLOTHING, Gossip Lit at its best. The plot is
fairly straightforward. Meet Julia, a transplant from California
with aspirations of becoming a jewelry designer. Upon her arrival
in the Big Apple a year earlier, she landed a plummy job at Pelham
Jewelers (umm, can you say Tiffany's), scores a cool apartment in a
trendy neighborhood with Douglas, her totally fabulous gay
co-worker, and there you have it --- life is just GRAND for
Julia.

Meet Lell Pelham, heiress of Pelham's, New York Socialite, leader
of a small pack of "twenty-something Park Avenue debutantes" just
like her (well, not as rich, but in terms of hair and clothes,
almost carbon copies) who is about to marry, according to her
mother and the rest of New York, the perfect man --- Willoughby
Banks, a man with a roving eye, not just for other women but also
for Lell's checkbook. He has the Mayflower breeding, but
unfortunately for Will, he's never had the money...until now.

Fate throws Julia into the wolf den when she is summoned to Lell's
wedding to assist with last-minute jewelry adjustments. In a
nanosecond she transforms the traditional Pelham's necklaces she
has delivered into something completely new and trendy that catches
the attention of her boss, Lell. Upon her return from a three-week
honeymoon (during which the happy couple becomes very unhappily
bored), she makes Julia her assistant as well as her new winter
project. Because Julia's last name is also that of a well-to-do
glass blowing family in Vermont, these ladies who lunch think they
have another heiress in their midst. Unbeknownst to Lell, her
incredibly shallow, always caustic friend, Polly, has made the same
Pygmalion decision that sets Julia up like "an accidental pawn
in…a sidewalk sized game of chess."

Julia goes from shop girl to chi-chi overnight, but discovers that
the golden life of the city's young crème de la crème
isn't as wonderful as it looks. Lell's quartet immediately starts
telling her what to eat (Salades Folles) and what not
(cheeseburgers --- "There's nothing worse than being fat" declares
Polly), which nail polish to use (Ballet Slippers, NOT Wicked) and
why she needs to lose her anklet. They also begin to ensure that
she receives invitations to all the must-be-seen-at charity events
around town. In this arena, Karasyov and Kargman have come up with
some pretty funny acronyms such as the benefit dinner for FADD
(Fight Attention Deficit Disorder) and the GROG ball (Get Rid of
Gangrene).

Julia's life is not the only metamorphosis. Lell reconnects with a
man she has been in and out of love with for years, but who she
rejected for marriage --- or did she? Her husband's eye already has
wandered and where it has come to rest, I can't divulge without
ruining the surprise. Hope questions the cost and benefits of the
New York lifestyle she and her husband are going broke trying to
lead (most of these charity dinners have tickets that start at $300
a person and lunch with the girls usually runs $95). Polly, despite
having a talent and taste for stirring up trouble, begins to wonder
how much she really needs her deadweight of a husband and starts to
see that she is repeating a parenting pattern begun by her own
mother who, living in France with her latest husband and two
children, has no time for her as a daughter and gives her very
little regard even as a social contact.

Don't worry, though. These storylines are still set against a
dazzling backdrop of beautiful people, gorgeous city settings,
exquisite clothes, and a society world that, while fun to watch,
most of us will never step foot in --- which isn't necessarily a
bad thing!

The co-authors take a little jab at themselves on page 51, when
Lell Pelham denounces Gossip Lit as "really shameful and tacky."
There are also some brief appearances by the villains of THE RIGHT
ADDRESS --- Joan Coddington and Wendy Marshal --- that are fun to
spot. This being Gossip Lit, one doesn't have to worry about a
neatly tied, somewhat happy ending. That's guaranteed for the
sympathetic characters who come off as strong individuals, and
definitely not for the ones we love to hate. There is, however, an
interesting taking-stock syndrome that we see traveling amongst the
key players like the very diseases they throw benefits to combat.
One wonders if this also is happening to the real-life society
faces we see every month on the party page. One can hope.

Reviewed by Jamie Layton on January 24, 2011

Wolves in Chic Clothing
Carrie Karasyov and Jill Kargman

  • Publication Date: April 5, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway
  • ISBN-10: 0767917804
  • ISBN-13: 9780767917803