A Moment of Jen
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Sunday, August 10, 2008
posted by Jen at 8/10/2008 08:11:00 PM

If you’re looking for a good book to take to the beach, I recommend Jennifer Haigh’s THE CONDITION, which reminded me a lot of THE CORRECTIONS, in very good ways.
Beside the title (and I wonder whether that was a deliberate echo?) both of the books take as their subject two generations of families with two sons, one a flaky academic, and a daughter.

Both books deal with the way illness can effect a marriage and the relationships between parents and children; husbands and wives. In THE CORRECTIONS, it’s the patriarch’s Alzheimer’s; in THE CONDITION, it’s something called Turners syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality which keeps youngest daughter Gwen permanently the size, and body shape, of a twelve-year-old.

Gwen will never hit puberty, never top five feet, never have children: but she’s not the only member of the McKotch family with a defining and, at times, debilitating, condition. One of the sons is gay and closeted; another diagnoses himself with adult A.D.D. after his boy gets kicked out of school. Mom is as chilly as the house she keeps at 55 degrees, the better to maintain her antiques; Dad can’t keep it zipped, and everyone worries about poor Gwen, and what kind of life she can possibly have.

The book is wonderfully written; the characters, and the worlds they inhabit are beautifully drawn, from the oldest son’s just-so sushi dinners to the younger son’s messy, kid-infested ranch, and the cheaply-built McMansion his wife covets. Romance bloom, marriages crash and burn, children and friends and lovers slip in and out of the story, all of them the beneficiaries of Haigh’s generous heart: she’s found something to love about all of her characters, even the horrible ones, or the ones who do horrible things. There’s a juicy romance, a devastating betrayal, and a bittersweet, entirely rewarding ending…which, like the book’s opening chapter, is set on Cape Cod.

I saw it in a bookshop in Provincetown right next to Andre Aciman’s CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. Are faceless swimmers the headless bodies of the oughties?

On a lighter note, I devoured, and adored BRINGING HOME THE BIRKIN, the story of how one man turned the fashionable set’s obsession with Hermes’ signature handbag into a handsome, globe-trotting career (he figured out a formula for obtaining dozens of the coveted bags that did not involve languishing on a two-year-long waiting list, then sold them on eBay). It’s got fun, fashion, scenic locales (Capri! Paris! Luxembourg!), mouthwatering descriptions of posh hotels and fine dining, and a non-purse-person-friendly explanation of why the Birkin is, you know, the Birken, and why there are people in the world who will pay upwards of $20,000 for a place to stash their keys and cell phone.

I tried to be a bag girl, a few years back. In Los Angeles, on the advice of my sister-in-law’s BFF, who works as a stylist, I plopped down big bucks for a pink Marc Jacobs bag. It was pretty, but never super-practical (I like hobo-style bags with one long strap that are big enough to hold a few books, keys, wallet, cell phone and, if necessary, diapers, extra baby/kid clothing and/or a change of shoes).

Then I left an uncapped Sharpie rolling around in there, and the bag’s interior got all marked up with black ink.

Then I read somewhere that Marc Jacobs will not cut clothes bigger than a size 10 because he doesn’t want the fats to wear his garments…and after that I never felt right carrying the bag (this could totally be an urban legend, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Marc Jacobs garment bigger than a 10).

So my Nanna inherited the Marc Jacobs, and these days I’m all about Tano bags, which are chic and comfortable and not crazy expensive, although my current bag is a bright cotton floral print that I picked up for $9.99 at Marshalls.

Finally, lit-land’s buzzing about this piece about the blurb hunt, in which a well-connected literary novelist seems honestly perplexed, and seriously pissed, that her published peers did not elbow one another out of the way in order to sing her praises. Best section:

I made a list of the kind-of-famous writers I kind of know and went to work. As luck would have it, I spotted one that very week at a book party for a novelist held in a swanky gallery on the Upper East Side. My target was a midlevel, moderately successful novelist who wrote the kind of smart, sophisticated books I imagined my reader might enjoy. The daughter of a famous novelist herself, she had no idea what total obscurity looked like, but I'd known her vaguely for years and we shared at least one mutual friend. Fortified by a glass of white wine,
I made my way toward her. "Hi," I said a little too brightly. Was it my imagination, or was she already moving away from me? After a few forced pleasantries, I brought up the book and asked if she might be willing to read it. The expression on her face -- part horror, part sneer -- was exactly what I would have expected had I released a large fart and asked what she thought of it.

"I'm really busy right now," she answered, turning her back. After that, I stuck to e-mail. Electronic humiliation is so much more tolerable.

Huh. Do you think after she approached the writer, she wandered over to a dentist, said, “My molar’s been bugging me,” then tilted back her head so she could take a look? Did she interrupt a dermatologist, mid-bite, to complain about her oozing rash and ask for an appointment the next morning?
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