Books Are Pretty

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Miss Understanding.

Man, did I get brainwashed by The Devil Wears Prada. For the first quarter of Miss Understanding, the newest book by Stephanie Lessing, I had an extremely difficult time reading the sections involving office life at a high fashion magazine. Where was Anna Wintour Miranda Priestly? Where was Andre Nigel? Where was the detailed minutia of the ins and outs of the fashion world? And why was somebody in Lessing's book eating a doughnut? Why was somebody eating at all, come to think of it?

I actually grumbled at Lessing's ignorance re: working at a fashion magazine until I did a little digging* and discovered that Lessing has just as much experience, if not more, than Devil author Lauren Weisenberg.

Grudgingly, I accept defeat. There can, in fact, be more than one way to view one's experiences working at Vogue.

Weird how firmly some things can get stuck in your head, though.

Clearly then, Miss Understandingis going to be just a little bit different. It even has a self-identified feminist, Zoe Rose, as a protagonist, which is always agreeable to have in a book.

Zoe Rose jumps on board at Issues magazine as the new deputy editor, and she is determined to overhaul the magazine, turning away from a focus on fashion to a focus on feminism. Right away we know the magazine's going to swirl straight down the toilet, and so it does, with the help of two wretched fashion editors, Blaire and Sloane, and the amiable editor Dan's evil mother Anita.

From the beginning of this fish out of water tale, Zoe fights constant battles, both with her staff and with herself, and as much as I love putting some feminist ideology into fashion magazines, it is clear that Zoe really hasn't thought this whole thing through. Elle, Marie Claire, and Vogue put very intelligent, thoughtful, feminism-driven articles in their issues quite often, but they also know it's a very bad idea to take all the fashion out of a fashion magazine.

You'd think Zoe would know that, too, but no - she is under the unbreakable spell of the Bad Childhood Memory, and she is determined to make all the mean girls in the word Cut That Out Right Now. Zoe's definitive, life-changing moment came in second grade, when the popular girls tortured her best friend Ali because she was poor and only had one dress, a frilly pink polka-dotted number that displayed her knobby knees and bony elbows. Zoe became determined to put an end to their destructive behavior once and for all, and uses Issues magazine to get well, pretty carried away, actually.

As zany and non-Devil Wears Prada-like as it is, Miss Understanding was fun. It's nice to read a novel written by someone who is obviously intelligent, and knows how to write jokes for women that involve more than dressing them up and then having them trip over something.** Zoe is smart and witty, which more than makes up for her zealotry.

While the book kind of falls apart at the end, becoming a little meandering and increasingly implausible, there's enough good in Miss Understanding to make it a perfect airplane read - good enough to hope the plane circles the airport a couple of times so you can finish it.

*I read the author's bio in the back of the book. I know, I know, I am rigorous in my research.

**Amanda Bynes does this so often she should be jailed. Where she can trip over the orange jumpsuit she threw on the floor because she thought it made her look fat.

Miss Understanding
by Stephanie Lessing
2006 by HarperCollins
Softcover, 332pp
ISBN: 0-06-113388-4

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