Get Lit with Becky Ford a Greenwich Sentinel column.

Beach Reads

Here are two book reviews for your summertime reading: When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger and The High Season by Judy Blundell

When Life Gives You Lululemons, by Lauren Weisberger

There is a woman on my street who I have never seen wearing anything other than Lululemons.

I live in town where there is a lot of opportunity to run into each other, and so I can say this with some certainty: she is definitely not coming from the gym. She always looks fabulous with her Chrissie Hynde eye-obscuring bangs and rocker-mom make up, and completes the look with shrunken denim jackets and fashion sneakers. She exudes a toughy vibe in her camo and skull prints, and I often think she looks like she could use a hug. And, maybe that’s really what the omnipresent stretchy pants are about—the daylong hug of compression.

This past Sunday, The Wall Street Journal ran an article debating the pros and cons of wearing skintight leggings outside of the gym. People are divided, and yet when I see the woman on my street getting back from school with her pre-adolescent daughter, now also in yoga pants, a voice in my head screams, “That’s not appropriate!”

This summer in Greenwich, Lululemons are once again a hot topic, and not because of rubbing thighs, but because of Lauren Weisberger’s new book, When Life Gives You Lululemons. Thankfully, I managed to read it before my friends started chiming in.

My need of the pre-opinion about books like this is so intense that it is almost pathological. It hit my Audible account the day it was published and was finished at 1.5 speed, two days later. Mission accomplished! I’ve had a few weeks to digest it and here are some thoughts: much better written than The Devil Wears Prada (I could never get past the first chapter, but loved the movie), and moderately entertaining in that page-turn-y way. If you think the title’s funny (and I do) and you’re not too picky about summer pulp, go for it—it’s fun in that snarky, privileged, “ridiculous women behaving badly but honorably” kind of way. It’s just the kind of frivolity the beach demands, unless you are sensitive to knowing too much about the fictional super rich and super vain, that is. If books like these make you feel bad about yourself, well this one’s a doozy. Consider yourself warned.

In brief: Emily Charlton, Miranda Priestly’s lovable right-hand harpy is now living in LA as an “image consultant.” An opportunity arrives to help out a friend of a friend—former Victoria’s Secret model, now wife of a New York senator with eyes on the White House—whose DUI mugshot is plastered on the front page of the Post. She schleps out to Greenwich to help publicly shamed Karolina who is holed up in her summer manse and the plot ensues.

Here’s a huge problem for those of us who read the Greenwich Sentinel: the town of the book is utterly unrecognizable. Weisberger must know someone who lives here, so couldn’t she have come out for a little recon to add some local color? How about lunch at Versailles and a pop in to Hoaglands to buy an $80 scented candle? How about giving Karolina a Round Hill Road address and putting her on a Green & Tonic juice fast?

There’s nothing uniquely Greenwich in the book. No Tod’s, no Belle Haven, no Fjord crack. The town could be Beverly Hills, Short Hills or any darn hills. It was even less Greenwich-y than Billions, which hardly seems possible. So, if you were hoping for Primates of Park Avenue chez nous, you’re out of luck. But if it’s a fictional episode of Real Housewives of Fairfield County you’re after? Then, this is definitely the book for you.

The book stayed with me for several days—and not in a good way. It wasn’t the cartoonish hedgie hookah party with the cast of Lin-Manuel era Hamilton stopping by to perform a few songs that bugged me.

I know that stuff happens here, and sometimes I even get to witness it. It wasn’t even the Melania-ness of the central character and the lame attempt to be au courant. It was the post drop-off, post-workout, Lululemon-clad housewife get-together that branded itself onto my brain.

Greenwich has so many layers that it’s like one of those crazy French crêpe cakes.

You can occupy a whole slice of life here and only run into the nonfictional counterparts of these women at Whole Foods. I am most admittedly not one of them, but when the conversation in the book went from cosmetic surgery to genital surgery, all of a sudden I knew I knew too much.

I’m not at all squeamish about these things. You fear your labia minora are not symmetrical and porn-y enough, or they hang down too far and make Soul-Cycling a smidge uncomfortable? Go nuts, get ’em clipped. You popped out a bunch of monkeys and now your rectum kinda bulges into your vagina? By all means, do what you need to do to get that sorted out.

That was not what these women were discussing. They were discussing having their labia reduced so they look Barbie-smooth in yoga pants, and having their vaginas “custom fit” for their husband’s pleasure. Really? Really? Is this what the really rich and the really vain are doing these days? Blithely discussing their “privates” over midday mimosas in “Greenwich Hills?” The women I know from Greenwich are more likely to be fighting genital mutilation in third world countries than jumping on the vaginal rejuvenation bandwagon, let alone talking about it with their friends.

I can’t un-read that scene in the book—and I really wish I could, it did not make me feel good about being a human, let alone a woman—but I can read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman again, and highly suggest you do the same. It’s the only antidote to the TMI of this book I know of.

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The High Season, by Judy Blundell

Ah, the Hamptons. So much a part of my life when I lived in the city and worked in the art world.

I can easily flash back to a night at the annual Parrish Museum fundraiser dinner at the table of a client, a New York real estate mogul with an endearing stutter who had taken a group of us sailing that day. I remember talking to an artist I dearly wanted to represent and her famous curator husband who was recommending one of his friends for my gallery.

All of our heads swiveled away from each other when Gavin Brown walked in with Elisabeth Peyton, who headed straight for Michael Lynn, who was talking to one of my artists. Everyone had someone whose attention they wanted more. It may have seemed all chummy and friendly under that tent eating rubber chicken, but it was pure transaction tarted up as “loving art.” And, what were we transacting?

Money, yes, but also the intangibles: access, coolness, power and connection. We were all using each other to advance ourselves, and I was as big a user as the rest of them. It was our culture far more so than culture itself.

When The High Season by Judy Blundell came out, I snatched it up. I love art world fiction: the outsized egos, the fabulous settings, the self-serving and manipulative behavior.

The art world always makes a good backdrop for fiction and now that so much of the action has migrated to the North Fork, like when the galleries moved from SoHo to Chelsea, the opportunity of this book was ripe for the picking.

The setup is this: Ruthie, the director of a non-profit gallery, inherited a plum summer house that she can only afford to live in year round if she rents it out for the “high season.” Enter the renter: Adeline, the widow of a blue chip artist who Ruthie used to work for when she and her now ex husband were starving artists in the city.

Adeline gets involved with the ex, the teenage daughter Jen gets involved with the son-in-law and chaos ensues. Add to that a hedge fund billionaire with a penchant for hoodie-wearing meditation, a museum worker with a secret life as a social media paparazzo, and a bad boy artist specializing in ironic pool toys and bouncy castles, and the plot boils like a lobster pot.

In many ways, this in the Platonic ideal of a beach read: fraught romances between adults, teens and twenty-somethings alike, an iconic setting that is just accessible enough to think you might visit one day, townies vs. summer renters, evil trophy wives vs. imperiled single moms, and a eccentric rich dude who treats life like a chess game, only winnable by him sitting on top of the story (in his hoodie) like the cherry on a sundae.

The bad guys get their comeuppances and the good guys get what they need, which isn’t always what they want.

I like that the main character, Ruthie, who is someone life beats up forcing her to figure out—like all people in their midlife will eventually need to do—what she really wants. She kills her dragons and makes the changes (even the ones she swears she never will) that free her to be her true self. In short, this reads like wicked fun, but has a central core of wisdom, which, at the end of the day is what we all really want on the beach: to escape and be inspired to be ourselves.