Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

You're Okay, but I'm Much Better ; A Clever Novel Examines the Undeservedly Entitled of New York as They Hover on the Brink of September 11

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

You're Okay, but I'm Much Better ; A Clever Novel Examines the Undeservedly Entitled of New York as They Hover on the Brink of September 11

Article excerpt

Everyone has at least one relative who needs to learn Ben Franklin's maxim that "visitors, like fish, stink after three days." But even Great Uncle Jim at his worst never reeked with as many repercussions as Frederick "Bootie" Tubb, the would-be devoted nephew in Claire Messud's absorbingly intelligent new novel The Emperor's Children.

As far as Marina Thwaite is concerned, her cousin is a most unwelcome house guest, both on aesthetic grounds and because he might distract her father from that most fascinating of topics: her.

Bootie, who had the brains but not the bank account for Harvard, has dropped out of the State University of New York at Oswego, declaring higher education a farce. Instead, he plans to become an autodidact (despite an inability to finish reading a novel) and worship at the feet of his uncle, Murray Thwaite, a celebrity journalist. To this end, he crashes at his uncle's upscale New York apartment, where Murray, out of pity, hires him as his secretary and where Marina, out of shuddering revulsion, avoids him.

The 30-year-old also has moved back home and is also failing to finish a book. Marina has spent five years "writing" about children's fashions: "about how complex and profound truths - our mores entire - could be derived from a society's decision to put little Lulu in a smocked frock or tiny Stacey in sequined hotpants."

Unfortunately, Marina can't remember a time when she was interested in the subject; even more unfortunately, she spent her advance from the publisher years ago. Her problem is not laziness; it's her own inflated expectations.

"Marina would not put her name - on her first book, and she her father's daughter - on something of which she was not proud, even as she had come to doubt that pride in this effort was possible."

Marina is the most privileged of three college chums who hover on the outskirts of New York intelligentsia in 2001. Months before Sept. 11, they are all questioning their choices and life goals.

Danielle works as a documentary producer and searches fruitlessly for love; Julius is a gay freelance critic who makes ends meet by temping.

Marina's arrested state worries the other two, even as her air of unearned superiority irks them. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.