When I heard Stephanie Clifford described as “a 21st-century Edith Wharton”, I almost changed my mind about reading her book. I HATED Edith Wharton when we had to read her in high school English — Ethan Frome? Worst book ever. Age of Innocence? Barely got through it. (Does that make me sound extremely illiterate and unlearned? OH WELL!) It turns out the Edith Wharton reference is in regard to the subject matter more so than writing style for Clifford’s novel Everybody Rise, though, thank goodness.
At 26 years old, Evelyn Beegan has moved from the Baltimore suburbs to New York City to recruit members for a new social network, People Like Us. It is literally Evelyn’s job to befriend and become part of Manhattan’s elite, much to her mother’s delight and her father’s chagrin. Her mother is a socialite constantly trying to fit in with “old money” circles via sending Evelyn to fancy prep schools and encouraging her to have proper manners, and her father is an extremely successful lawyer taking down giant pharma companies while trying to stick to his humble southern roots. Unfortunately Evelyn’s mother’s unhealthy desperation to fit in has finally trickled down to her daughter in the worst possible way.
Soon after joining People Like Us, Evelyn ditches her old (and genuinely decent) friends Preston and Charlotte in favor of Camilla Rutherford, the Queen Bee of New York society (think Serena van der Woodsen, except a little meaner). Evelyn just can’t get enough of Camilla’s glamorous world of parties, benefits, galas, exclusive clubs, restaurants and vacations, and she also can’t afford it — a $46,000/year salary does NOT go far in New York, even in 2006 and especially if you’re trying to keep up with people who never have to think about money. While trying to maintain this new lifestyle Evelyn goes deep into debt, pisses off her parents, cheats on her boyfriend, basically screws up her entire life in every possible way. There’s one “scene”, for lack of a better word, during which Charlotte, a finance expert, finds all of Evelyn’s credit card statements and tries to help dig her out but Evelyn is in complete denial. From that point on her life continues to unravel — she is let go from her job, has a huge falling out with Camilla and is forced to return home when her father is indicted by a federal court because of some shifty money exchanges during his big pharma cases. (Honestly, the end of the book is a little disorganized and disheartening, but I have an advanced copy so hopefully Ms. Clifford is going back to fix these things as I type this review.)
Overall I enjoyed this book — infinite times more than I ever enjoyed an Edith Wharton — but it was a bit unsettling. Evelyn’s misplaced need to belong to a particular group reminded me of my own recent experience in which I felt like I had to try to “fit in” somewhere; I honestly had not felt that insecure about myself and what I have to offer since middle school, so after a few months of crap I made a solemn promise to myself that I will never allow anyone to make me feel that way ever again. Reading this story brought back all of those bad feelings, but it also made me solidify that promise.