cover image Elements of Style: A Novel

Elements of Style: A Novel

Wendy Wasserstein, . . Knopf, $24.95 (307pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-4231-9

In the classic primer that Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Wasserstein (The Heidi Chronicles ) names her dishy first novel after, Strunk & White note, "Style not only reveals the spirit of the man but reveals his identity." Wasserstein tries to apply that aphorism to Manhattan's wealthy elite shortly after 9/11. Upper East Side pediatrician Francesca "Frankie" Weissman doesn't have quite as much disposable income as the Manolo moms and Bonpoint babies that frequent her office. She's drawn into the city's circles of old and new money, including those of blue-blooded Samantha Acton; reinvented Californian Judy Tremont; and self-made film mogul Barry Santorini, son of a South Philly cobbler. As mothers stockpile Cipro and gas masks after 9/11, none of them stops believing that "life could be controlled if only you had the right resources." As the question of how, when and with whom Frankie will couple narrows, the novel hits a disconcerting number of false notes: points of view shift with jarring speed, a bathetic account of a suicide bombing rankles and it is hard to care much about characters who utter such lines as "That's love, babe. You always have to give 200 percent." But Wasserstein gets the trappings and tribulations (of friendship and of romance) right, making her depiction of the rich and fab trying to connect with one another witty and entertaining. (Apr.)