The Immaculate Complexion.
Here's the deal with my reviews, mostly: I try to review books not for what they are, but for what they're supposed to be. I'm not going to take this book, another lighter-than-air look at the fashion industry, and compare it to Dostoevsky or Jane Austen or Dorothy Parker, and I don't think I should.
Immaculate Complexion is supposed to the the kind of book you read when you're sitting under a tree in the backyard with one eye on the book and the other on three small children playing in the sprinkler. It's a book you want to bring to the beach, because it's one of those mass market paperbacks, the books that have an advertisement for something right in the middle of it* (the ad in this book is an offer to get 4 books free if you join the Romance Book Club.), and it's small enough to jam into your beach bag under the sunblock and the towels. It's the kind of book you want to read if, as one Amazon reviewer** said of the book, "Normally, it takes me weeks, even months to get through a book. My mind wanders, I fall asleep, I count the pages to see how long it is till the next chapter begins."
But if you're Jessa Crispin, you won't even open it.
So, with that categorization, how does it hold up? Not too bad.
Immaculate Complexion, a book packed with so many right-this-very-second pop trends that you'd better read it right now before it dates itself, was written by two former publicists for a cosmetic company*** under the pseudonym Edie Bloom, a true grit take on the makeup industry seen through the eyes of plucky young heroine Marnie Mann, a temp sent to float around in an Estée Lauder-like company. What unfolds is exactly what you think is going to unfold, if you've read The Devil Wears Prada or Miss Understanding or any of the hundreds of tell-all chick lit books about the fashion industry.
*Fat (5'7", 140lbs. i.e. - not fat)fish out of water gets hired.
*She has her feelings continually hurt by anorexic fish.
*However, fish has brains and pluck, and therefore
*lands a fabulous boyfriend, and
*becomes a success.
The writers cover the basic plot structure with a lot, and I mean A LOT, of stuff, so much stuff I feel overwhelmed even thinking about recapping it: A Power Lesbian boss forcing Marnie to plan her A-List wedding, a batch of bad Botox that causes paralysis and comas, the mysterious disappearance of Hattie LeVigne, the company's 90-year-old founder, and even murder. And that's just during the 9-to-5. During her off hours, Marnie is given a new romance with Paul, the head of the Cheese Department at the neighborhood Dean & Deluca, and a vegan, animal-rights activist of a best friend, Holly, with whom Marnie is trying to start her own all-natural cosmetics line.
Any one of these plot points could have been its own book. It was as if the writers had a lot of grievances to get out of their system and poured it all out on the page at once. Maybe they shouldn't have done this, because they could have written (and collected paychecks for) at least five books with the same zany recurring cast of characters.
The work stories aren't written too badly - if there's one thing girls usually knock out of the park, it's writing about the skinny, pretty bullies that tormented us in high school and made us feel suicidally fat and ugly. However, the book really shines during Marnie's off hours, where her romance with the sweet and gentle Paul really rings true and sets off a powerful spark. The writers manage to add a great dollop of love with almost no sex, so if you're looking for that one dog-eared page to read over and over again, quit looking. You won't find it here.
The only thing about the book that I found somewhat alarming were some careless racial references that quite frankly need to be left out of future editions.
When describing the privileged childhood of Summer and Rebecca LeVigne, Hattie's grandchildren and heiresses to the family fortune, they are mentioned as being photographed at their thirteenth birthday party with "a big black mammy holding an enormous cake in the background."
While I understand the writers were trying to make a point about class privilege, I think there must be a better way to do it than that. Like wearing blackface, I think there's just no real way to make that okay, regardless of intent.
The other comment was when Marnie looks at a photo of a young Hattie applying cream to the face of Mao Tse Tung, and it reminds her of her Asian boyfriend. What? Why? How could this possibly be true?
While I in no way think the writers were being deliberately racially insensitive or cruel, I feel obligated to give a heads-up about it to blog readers who may be sensitive to racially dubious remarks.
Those two sentences out of 326 pages aside, Immaculate Complexion is a book you can buzz through easily without taxing too many brain cells, which is perfect for these last few days of warm summer weather.
*I really hate it when books have commercials right there in the middle. One of the major advantages of books is that they're commercial-free. This practice needs to be stopped, by force if necessary.
**The Amazon review section is sort of like the blank pages in someone's high school yearbook now. So many of the writer's friends and relations line up with their "U Rule" and "BFF 4-evar!" that they're completely untrustworthy for getting a legitimate opinion. And sadly, I'm just as guilty. One of my BFFs from high school got a book published a few years ago, and who was right there to give him five stars? Me, that's who. It was a book on computer programming. I hadn't even read the damn thing.
***Whose names I will not reveal in case they're still getting free swag.
The Immaculate Complexion
by Edie Bloom
May, 2007 by Dorchester
Mass Market Paperback, 326pp
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
The Immaculate Complexion.