The Social Climbers Handbook
Reviewed by Stephanie Spiro
“But manslaughter was what happened when rich or famous people killed someone; they got convicted of manslaughter. They didn’t murder people; that was something vulgar, like wearing white shoes after Labor Day.” – Daisy Greenbaum
In her timely and fun new book, The Social Climber’s Handbook, Molly Jong-Fast takes a stab at the Manhattan elite. Mild-mannered Daisy Greenbaum, (a name that brings to mind hippie peace circles and endless Gatsby summers) lives a Gossip Girl lifestyle. She has adorable twins who are not darling enough to play Matt Damon’s future spouses in the reel world, but cute enough to become investment bankers. Daisy loves her high-maintenance, powerful financier hubby, Dick Greenbaum, a master of the universe, lord of the prop desk, king of The Bank.
Fabulously wealthy and desperately unhappy, the Greenbaum family lives at 740 Park Avenue, the coveted corner of Manhattan. They are filthy rich. Back-stabbing New York social scenesters circle the Greenbaum lair, and the buzzards are dying to take them down. A sweet, apologetic soup kitchen volunteer, Daisy feels threatened and she has found the perfect remedy for the Upper East Side blues, beyond bulimia, shopping. or the newest fad diet pill: “murdering people cuts down on her rage.”
Swimming in a delightful slew of pop culture references, kicky catch-phrases and gore, The Social Climber’s Handbook is a fantasy that is self-aware and self-referential: “She was in one her husband’s ridiculous anxiety dreams. But she couldn’t be in his dreams, could she?” The book is a biting cut-up of New York’s social richies and a timely pop-postmodern collage, full of catty Upper East Side women, MTV references, Lanvin chokers, $40,000 curtains, ironic bikini-clad blondie-bloggers, and a “yummy mummy” murderer bashing the bitches and dirtying her $700 Louboutins (the perfect pumps for an afternoon skull-crushing).
Jong-Fast’s Manhattan is a cinematic hybrid of hilarity and nonchalant slasher-chic, populated by the cultivated urban survivalists in the Gossip Girl-come-Manhattan-sociopath-cool style made famous by Bret Easton Ellis and his American psychos. The Bright Lights of the Big City illuminate the shallow heads of the vicious card-carrying stylistas in their killer pumps, psychotically well-groomed, snooty, and “so tan and so anorexic” that (in Jong-Fast’s Handbook) they look “like a stick of beef jerky.”
Daisy Greenbaum is a modern-day Betty a la Bateman, a killer with a moral code. Jung-Fast dirties up the digs with her own bloody and tart-tongued modern Austen-esque splatter-paint satire of manicures and anti-manners on the Upper East Side. It’s a concrete jungle out there and Daisy is slaughtering the competition, bringing chi-chi Darwinism to the sparkly, spooky-clear penthouses of 740 Park.