Considering the subject matter—the real housewives of Orange County—Patterson's debut novel (after story collection Drift) is surprisingly sophisticated and nuanced. In debt and unmarried, Esther Wilson works at a clothing boutique and lives with her wealthy grandmother, Eileen, whose financial generosity is orchestrated to "encourage dependence." Terrified of poverty, Esther is in the midst of securing a proposal from an unattractive but wealthy heir, but she blows it. Enter ex-boyfriend Charlie Murphy, who, though from a well-off family, is a liberal-minded sociology professor at the local community college, and therefore an object of Eileen's derision. Charlie takes it upon himself to emancipate Esther from the chains of vapid privilege, but with a huge inheritance imminent for him and nasty gossip circulating about Esther, Charlie's lefty enlightenment dims. As an acerbic commentary on mid-'90s Southern Californian excess, the novel walks a fine line between critic and unintentional participant—commentaries on the retrograde position of Orange County women jostle against overindulgent physical description—though Patterson's Southern California has echoes of Nathanael West and early Bruce Wagner. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/24/2011 Release date: 03/01/2011 Genre: Fiction
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