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All is Vanity Audio Cassette – Mar 2003
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
This book was so depressing that it made me want to drop out of university and reconsider ever becoming an English major. Read morePublished on July 18 2006 by Candice
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 morePublished on June 14 2004 by Amazon Customer
This book was so depressing and the main characters were so frustrating (one is an egomaniac, the other becomes a self-destructive idiot). Read morePublished on Feb. 27 2004 by Madrigal
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 morePublished on Jan. 24 2004
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 morePublished on Nov. 12 2003 by Amazon Customer
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 morePublished on Nov. 5 2003 by Debra Hamel
After reading "Drowning Ruth" I was very excited to see Christina Schwarz had written a new novel. Read morePublished on May 27 2003