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All is Vanity [Audio Cassette]

Christina Schwarz , Liza Ross
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 2003
As they reach their mid-thirties, Margaret and Letty, best friends since childhood, begin to chafe at their sense that they are not where they ought to be in life. Margaret, driven and overconfident, decides to rectify this by quitting her job and whipping out a literary tour de force. Frustrated almost immediately, Margaret turns to Letty for support. But as Letty, a stay-at-home mother of four, begins to feel pressured to make a good showing in the upper-middle-class Los Angeles society into which her husband's new job has thrust her, Margaret sees a plot unfolding that's better than anything she could make up. Desperate to finish her book, she pushes Letty to take greater and greater risks, and secretly steals her friend's stories as fast as she can live them. Hungry for acclaim, Margaret sacrifices one of the things most precious to her, until the novel's suspenseful conclusion shows her the terrible consequences of her betrayal.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Description

From Amazon

Lifelong best friends Margaret and Letty are in their mid-30s. Margaret has just quit her teaching job to write a novel in Manhattan; Letty, her husband, and her four children are enjoying their first taste of worldly success in Los Angeles. Margaret soon discovers that writing is not as easy as it looks, and Letty finds herself financially over her head in the one-upmanship of L.A. living. Reading Letty's hilarious e-mails, Margaret realizes that a great story is unfolding right in front of her, and she begins a new novel based on her friend's travails. Hungry for more drama in her novel, she pushes Letty deeper and deeper into debt. Christina Schwartz's diabolical All Is Vanity sends up so many different things, you need a list to keep track of them all. Taking a drubbing are: the pretensions of would-be writers ("How many people believe they have a novel fully formed in the backs of their brains ... and are convinced if only they could manage to tear themselves away from much more important work, they would just 'write it up'?"); the consumerist frenzy of L.A. (Letty's realtor tells her that her yard "could be 'emotional' with the right landscaping'"); and, of course, the uses and abuses of female friendship. Schwartz, author of the bestseller Drowning Ruth, draws us in with farce, then changes course and gives us a bittersweet indictment of personal ambition. In the process, she shows herself as a writer both compassionate and hilariously cruel--no mean trick. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

The die was cast for Margaret and Letty back when they were childhood friends, in Pasadena, Calif. "Even in our games, she was always Robin to my Batman, Watson to my Holmes, Boswell to my Johnson," the grown-up Margaret muses in the East Village, where she now lives with her husband, Ted. Margaret has decided to quit teaching English to rich kids and write a meaningful novel. The trouble is, she doesn't have a plot. She strains to invent a hero, Robert Martin, who interminably makes breakfast while remembering Vietnam. But it is more fun to use her computer to exchange e-mails with Letty, a devoted mom whose world is turned upside down when her husband, Michael, lands a big-deal museum job in L.A. and the couple begin spending beyond their means. A while after the reader has figured out that Margaret would rather script Letty's life than Robert's, Margaret gloms onto the weird equation. The deeper Letty sinks into debt and degradation, the better the chances that Margaret can write a bestseller about her and make enough money to save them both. Exit Robert, enter Lexie, based on the Lettie whom Margaret manipulates electronically while feigning a best friend's concern. Schwarz (Drowning Ruth) has a wicked eye for human foibles. Ted's relentless accountancy (he records the purchase of Tic-Tacs), successful writer Sally Sternforth's insufferable ego, the cavalier ways of literary agent Heather Mendelson Blake, Michael's blind ambition: Schwarz nails them all. As funny as it is cruel, the novel sweeps you along on its fast-track slide to hell. While some readers may cavil at a morality play without redemption, others will respect the no-exit spin on ambition and greed.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars My fate as an English major July 18 2006
By Candice
Format:Hardcover
This book was so depressing that it made me want to drop out of university and reconsider ever becoming an English major. In fact, it left me in a lazy, puzzled stupor for about a week, until I realized that Margaret is quite possibly one of the most horrible characters I have ever encountered.

I thought the idea of the story was very interesting, although the endless details of Letty's new home made me fall asleep. I also actually really enjoyed Schwarz's writing style... the fact that Margaret is a protagonist turned antagonist is unique.

Also, I don't think Letty's downfall can be entirely attributed to Margaret's ill decisions.

I'll still consider reading "Drowning Ruth" cos of Schwarz's writing style, but meh... this book didn't do it for me.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Drowning in Vanity June 14 2004
Format:Paperback
As Margaret, our narrator, ruins several lives in her efforts to get her novel published, it becomes quite clear that All is Vanity would never have earned publication without the success of Drowning Ruth. While Ruth is suspenseful, I had difficulty even getting through Vanity. The characters are annoying and nearly impossible to empathize with, and become more and more despicable with each passing page. Wholly unsatisfying.
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2.0 out of 5 stars good beginning, strange middle, weird ending May 4 2004
Format:Paperback
Schwarz is no doubt a fairly good writer - the book was well and interestingly written until about 2/3 of the way.

She knows how to draw realistic, likeable and interesting women but she has no feel for the male characters. Ted comes across as just a numbers cruncher - surely an intelligent woman like Margaret cannot be satisfied living with this boring lump. As for Michael, he is so one-dimensional as to be totally unbelievable and he has no backbone whatsoever. Schwarz's male characters seem to exist as cardboard cutouts in the background somewhere and their only purpose is to render one-liners to their spouses here and there to make the story more believable.
I found it even more unlikely that the very bright Letty could live with and admire someone of this calibre.

I did enjoy the use of e-mails and could really "see" Letty through her writing of them. She seems like the kind of person I would admire and want to be friendly with.
Schwarz is very moralistic and the story had a weird and strangely unsatisfying ending. I would not rush out to buy her next book.
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Format:Paperback
This book was so depressing and the main characters were so frustrating (one is an egomaniac, the other becomes a self-destructive idiot). With both of the main characters headed for disaster, I could barely bring myself to read a chapter or two a week, and often wondered if I should even bother finishing the book. If I had read the reviews here, I would have known better.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Depressing...a waste of time Jan. 24 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Reading the book was like being forced to live in the minds of two definitive losers...one more boring and insecure than the last.
In the end, it depressed me so much, I couldn't even get through the last 100 pages. That's right, I read about 250 pages of this self-indulgent nonsense without discovering so much as one character arc...flat, uninspired drivel.
Don't be swayed by the premise...If I had read the reviews, I wouldn't have wasted my time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Nov. 12 2003
Format:Hardcover
I'm so glad I didn't see the big O (Oprah!) on the cover of this one, or I probably wouldn't have picked it up. Instead, I checked it out on a whim at the library.
All is Vanity is extremely well written. It alternates between the viewpoints of two characters - women who were friends since they were children. The letters are entertaining to read. The tone shifts subtly as the plot becomes urgent toward the end of the book. And things keep moving all the way to the end. Even when you've got only about 3 millimeters' worth of pages left to read, the story is far from reaching a conclusion and you're wondering WHAT is going to happen. The ending is a bit different. I wouldn't call it weak. I enjoyed the book from cover to cover. It was thoroughly entertaining to read, and also had many great morals as a bonus. I can't wait to read more by this author!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Diabolically funny and bittersweet Nov. 5 2003
Format:Hardcover
All is Vanity, by Christina Schwarz (also the author of Drowning Ruth, an Oprah pick), is a story about two life-long female friends. Margaret, who fancies herself the Batman to Letty's Robin, quits her day job to write a novel. She figures she can crank out a good book in about year. Not surprisingly, she finds writing to be a tougher gig than she'd supposed. Beset by writer's block, she'll do just about anything to avoid work. Diabolically funny and bittersweet, the book is, most impressively, very well written. I found myself repeatedly re-reading paragraphs to savor the language.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Novelistically delightful! Oct. 9 2003
Format:Hardcover
Unbelievable this is just the second novel from this author. Drowning Ruth was a good story slowly told. This book is exponentially better, so much so that I can't wait for a third. Like Drowning Ruth, the writing is very strong. Her choice of words, metaphors, etc. is flawless. The first part will be chillingly but also amusingly (quite a feat!) familiar to any writer who has ever stumbled over the same blocks. It works as a wonderful satire as well, but the characters are so achingly real that their inevitable downfall has true resonance.
I've read some of the other reviews that have been negative. I am so glad that Christina Schwarz apparently does not have all these "Margarets" in her life. You don't have to "like" the main characters for a story to be good. I certainly don't want to read stories about perfect people who are absolutely morally relatable to myself who might happen to fall out of line in an understandable way and then pay a clear and overwritten price for it. Yawn. Some people write those books. I don't read them.
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