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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
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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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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1.0 out of 5 stars Flat and boring. Undeveloped characters. Aug. 14 2003
By Sheas
Format:Hardcover
I'm not going to go into the plot of the story because I feel that other reviewers have done an excellent job of summing it up. Basically, I felt that this book was incredibly boring. The first half of the novel is spent following around Margaret as she does every thing imaginable to avoid writing a book. While this gives the reader a deeper glance into Margaret's character, it also becomes excrutiatingly painful to read. After wading through a slow plot, the ending of the book really clinched it. Basically, Margaret ends up feeling guilty and tries to take the blame for the actions of her friend Letty (and the summary of the book leads you to believe that this could be some traumatic and scandalous ordeal when in truth it's just [bad]). Margaret isn't to blame- Letty is to blame for being too stupid to live. I had a hard time feeling sorry for Letty because she was self-indulgent and obviously lacked self-control. Basically, the characters were undeveloped and stereotypical, the plot was slow and boring, and the ending was [bad]. I closed the book not feeling sympathetic for either character. I think the author shows talent in her writing, but this was one concept that fell flat. Not worth the time to read.
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2.0 out of 5 stars who needs Margaret July 21 2003
Format:Hardcover
I have never had the pleasure of reading Drowning Ruth, and I never read a single review before picking this book off the shelf at the local library. I loved the story itself. I found it very intriguing. The writers block, the family problems, and poor Letty.
The part of the book that bothered me was Margaret. I would have been much happier to see the book more through Letty's eyes instead of the self-absorbed Margaret. I put the book down and STILL could not understand how it was Margaret's fault. Unless it was simply used as a big excuse to protect Margaret from realizing her own failure in writing her "Great American Novel" and just wanting to make herself feel like the victim to take some of the spotlight from Letty's troubles.
I found Margaret repulsive and found myself skimming her parts to find out what happens to Letty next. I think that in reality most people know a "Margaret" or a "Letty" type person and can identify with the behaviors of each. Personally, I don't know why Letty put up with the woman.
I would say its a good read. I agree with the other review that I find this hard to believe is a second novel from Schwarz. Unless it was rushed and pressured to come out with... and like Margaret the author decided she did it once, she could do it again with half a heart into it.
Would I pass it along for others to read... sure, would I waste my shelf space on it? No.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Schwarz is a superb writer. But. July 7 2003
Format:Hardcover
I have not read "Drowning Ruth." I picked up "All is Vanity" after reading a positive review in Publisher's Weekly that claimed some readers would raise petty objections to a novel that does not redeem its characters while others would appreciate its "no-exit spin on ambition and greed." I was curious to find out which category I would fall under.
I guess I fall under the former category because I did have a problem with Margaret. Not because she wasn't redeemed, but because I eventually wondered what the point of her story was.
Schwarz is a superb writer because she manages to detail excruciating moments so well I had to close the book and shudder *with* Margaret: Margaret and her husband go to a party and Margaret has to explain that she has quit her job as a teacher to write a novel. A snobbish writer is at the party and asks Margaret about her book. I will not give anymore of this scene away because it is just *too good*. It is painful and great and real.
There is another scene like this that nearly made me cry. Margaret takes a job working for a friend and meets one of her former high school students who is also working there. The scene is just humiliating. Schwarz pulls it off expertly. There are other things: when Margaret sits down to write she starts to notice how dusty the apartment is and spends the day cleaning instead. I think the most frustrating/infuriating moment is when she decides the place must be repainted. All this because she can't concentrate on writing!
Schwarz's ability to create a character who narrates such painful moments and at the same time says things that prove she is completely unaware of how *wrong* she is impressed me immensely. But Margaret is a total jerk.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars My fate as an English major
This book was so depressing that it made me want to drop out of university and reconsider ever becoming an English major. Read more
Published on July 18 2006 by Candice
1.0 out of 5 stars Drowning in Vanity
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... Read more
Published on June 14 2004 by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Excellent writer, but reading this book was like torture
This book was so depressing and the main characters were so frustrating (one is an egomaniac, the other becomes a self-destructive idiot). Read more
Published on Feb. 27 2004 by Madrigal
1.0 out of 5 stars Depressing...a waste of time
Reading the book was like being forced to live in the minds of two definitive losers...one more boring and insecure than the last. Read more
Published on Jan. 24 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful
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. Read more
Published on Nov. 12 2003 by Liora Hess
5.0 out of 5 stars Diabolically funny and bittersweet
All is Vanity, by Christina Schwarz (also the author of Drowning Ruth, an Oprah pick), is a story about two life-long female friends. Read more
Published on Nov. 5 2003 by Debra Hamel
1.0 out of 5 stars Utterly disappointing
After reading "Drowning Ruth" I was very excited to see Christina Schwarz had written a new novel. Read more
Published on May 27 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars An insightful and excellent novel
I'm writing this review in response the baffling reader reviews already posted. Most of them mention that is not what they expected or wanted from the author of "Drowning... Read more
Published on May 6 2003
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