Simon & Schuster, $16.00, ISBN 0-7432-5328-0
Contemporary Fiction, 2003
This book isn’t a chick-lit novel. What Gigi Levangie Grazer did is to take all the formulae of a chick-lit novel, crams them into a blender, adds enough suspicious pills from the recreational drugs aisle for taste, and serve chilled. Seriously, every single familiar formula of a chick-lit novel – and a Sex in the City or Ally McBeal episode – is mercilessly parodied that this book is like Bridget Jones who isn’t afraid to confess her anorexia and drug habits.
Oh, and if you’re one of the many people who wrote in and complained to me that the writing style of Rescue Me, the author’s last (and very different) book, is clunky and ungrammatical, well, this book won’t be written to your liking. Since I’m the last person to care about grammar and sentence structure (if you can’t tell by now) if the story held my attention, I don’t really mind though. I have a fabulous time reading Maneater, often laughing out loud because the author is really merciless.
Clarissa Alpert is thirty-one, but she swears she’s twenty-eight. Her father chases after women younger than Clarissa while her mother is neurotic, smokes too many cigarettes, and uses bad African American ghetto-speak. After running through men like water, our spoiled socialite decides that it’s time she get married and have babies. She chooses Aaron Mason, an upcoming movie producer, and even as they date, she is planning their wedding already with her Star Chamber girlfriends (a neurotic slut, a African American hypochondriac slut, a blissfully oblivious not-so-slutty sweet type, and the evil jealous skank) cheering her on. Aaron is hot, rich, and he has a limp leg (Clarissa has a fetish for men with physical deformities), so he’s just perfect. Until they get married and she learns that he is disinherited by his parents. Hello, middle class. Clarissa screams in horror.
I love Clarissa. She is so mean, shallow, and superficial that I just have to love her. Who else will save all her old answering machine messages (mostly of her ex-boyfriends begging please) to be replayed when she is blue? Then there’s this list of hers about the different kinds of “fucks”, which has to be read to be appreciated. She is looking for “love fucks”, naturally. This woman is the perfect antidote to the plethora of chicklit heroines out there: we have a slut and her friends who positively enjoy their sluttiness and shallow hubris while making no apologies for it. For Clarissa, you have to sleep with a man before marrying him, and by the third date, if the sex doesn’t happen, bye-bye baby.
All this over-the-top philosophy can be loathsome and painful to read if Ms Grazer doesn’t imbue Clarissa with a cheerful if superficial outlook that makes shocking sense. It’s the “If you’re going to be mean, selfish, and shallow, be like Robert Downey Jr, not Martha Stewart” principle at work here – Clarissa’s outlook in life is laced with truly witty cynicism that makes sense. Her behavior is just her embracing this cynicism and living it, instead of whining about it like those chick-lit heroines do.
The only downside of this book is the saccharine way the author redeems – in a way – Clarissa. Ms Grazer does this by introducing several unnecessary subplots involving Aaron that lead to a misunderstanding. Of course, every chick-lit book has a big misunderstanding – it’s the law – but this time around, the subplot is introduced in a rushed manner that is bewildering rather than entertaining. Ms Grazer’s treatment of Clarissa’s parents are ridiculously sweet, for a moment I swear I’m reading a chick-lit novel rather than a parody of one. That’s the biggest flaw of Maneater – its last few chapters belong to a chick-lit novel, not this novel.
There are some pretty amusing aspects worth pointing out: unlike chick-lit heroines and their girlfriends that often mask envy and jealousy under the facade of friendship, the Star Chamber slutties do things the other way around: they bitch, gossip, and profess to hate each other, but they stick together through good and bad times. Ms Grazer also uses her Hollywood connections to drop names of brands and celebrities like a pro, easily matching the more talented British chick-lit authors when it comes to virtuoso show-and-tell coolness. And also, Ms Grazer’s turn of phrases are often cruel and sharp like the British counterparts that she lampoons.
The biggest irony, I guess, is that by embracing the neuroticism and superficiality that is the chick-lit novel formula only to be upfront about the ridiculousness of it all, Maneater turns out to be a more effective chick-lit novel than most of the books it parodies.
If you’re overdosed on the current chick-lit trends, Ms Grazer has a perfect and toxic antidote waiting on the bookshelves. Give it a look some time.