Everybody Rise: A Novel
St. Martin’s Press (August 2015), hardcover (ISBN 1250077176 / 9781250077172)
Fiction, 384 pages
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“Work just gets in the way of life,” Camilla Rutherford observes to Evelyn Beegan somewhere near the halfway point of Stephanie Clifford’s debut novel, Everybody Rise. Who hadn’t felt that way at one time or another, honestly, no matter how much we might actually like our work? But most of us have to figure out a way to incorporate work into life, or schedule life around work–we don’t get to choose life over work. It’s literally a luxury very few can afford. Old-money New Yorkers like Camilla are among the very few. Evelyn wants to be among them, but acting like she is doesn’t necessarily make it so–ultimately, it may come to make it very much the opposite.
Evelyn’s long been ambivalent about her social-climbing mother’s ambitions for her, and even among the friends she’s known since prep school, she’s seen herself on the fringes. However, the fringes are a good place to study what’s happening on the inside, and when Evelyn lands a job recruiting members to a new social-networking site aimed at young elites, she thinks she just might be where she belongs. But in order to recruit, she has to mingle, and this kind of mingling take money.
The money doesn’t worry Evelyn all that much, not at first–she may not have quite enough of it to keep up on her own, but surely her parents will help, especially now that she’s finally among the people her mother wants her to be with? Surely they would, if not for that bribery investigation and potential Federal indictment hanging over her father’s head–most of their money is going to legal costs these days. Well, until all that gets sorted out, she’s got credit cards, and isn’t this what “credit” is for?
Stephanie Clifford’s most obvious influence here is Edith Wharton. While Everybody Rise is nowhere near the downer that House of Mirth is (one of the all-time ironically-titled classics, by the way), the rise and fall of Evelyn Beegan is largely predictable, and neither she not most of the characters surrounding her are terribly sympathetic. All of this frequently tried my patience, and yet I lapped this novel up. There’s a degree of comfort and a sense of validation when a novel does more or less exactly what you expect of it; sometimes infuriating characters can be more engaging than sympathetic ones; and when a story is told with as much intelligence and knowing humor as this is, it all works.
I suspect I’d have adored Everybody Rise if I were no older than my mid-thirties, and I’m certain I’d have been more patient with this particular story at that stage of my reading–and personal–life than in my current one. Here, I can say I liked it, and it’s been so highly praised that I’m glad I read it to see for myself…but I’m also glad I used my library card for this one.
Rating: 3.5 of 5
Everyone yearns to belong, to be part of the “in crowd,” but how far are you willing to go to be accepted? In the case of bright, funny and socially ambitious Evelyn Beegan, the answer is much too far…
At 26, Evelyn is determined to carve her own path in life and free herself from the influence of her social-climbing mother, who propelled her through prep school and onto New York’s glamorous Upper East Side. Evelyn has long felt like an outsider to her privileged peers, but when she gets a job at a social network aimed at the elite, she’s forced to embrace them.
Recruiting new members for the site, Evelyn steps into a promised land of Adirondack camps, Newport cottages and Southampton clubs thick with socialites and Wall Streeters. Despite herself, Evelyn finds the lure of belonging intoxicating, and starts trying to pass as old money herself. When her father, a crusading class-action lawyer, is indicted for bribery, Evelyn must contend with her own family’s downfall as she keeps up appearances in her new life, grasping with increasing desperation as the ground underneath her begins to give way.
“‘Your pearl earrings are rather worn down. They’re starting to look like molars,’ Barbara Beegan said to her daughter, poking with a cocktail knife at pâté that was so warmed by the sun that it was nearly the consistency of butter. ‘Don’t you ever take them off?’
“Evelyn’s right hand jolted up to her ear and rubbed at an earring, which did feel lumpy. She’d bought them as a prep-school graduation gift for herself, and over the years, wearing them during showers and swims and tennis games must have eaten away at the earrings’ round perfection, but it wasn’t something she’d noticed until now. ‘You wanted me to wear them,’ she said.
“‘I wanted you to look like you were dressing to watch the lacrosse game, not playing in it. You could at least polish them every now and then. People must wonder if you can’t take care of your things. I think this pâté has salmonella. Can’t you find something else to put out?’
“Evelyn sidled along the edge of the 1985 beige Mercedes. Her mother had bought it, used, after Evelyn’s orientation at Sheffield, her prep school, once Barbara saw none of the old-money mothers would deign to drive a fresh-off-the-lot BMW like the Beegans had shown up in. The Mercedes was parked just a few inches from the next car, an aged Volvo-there was hardly a post-1996 car to be seen on the field-and Evelyn opened the door to slide her hand into a picnic basket in the backseat. She groped wedges of warm cheese in Saran Wrap, warm wine … a warm container of cream cheese? No, olive tapenade; and, guessing that the tapenade was the least likely to cause food poisoning, retrieved that. A roar went up from First Field, a few hundred yards away; the crowd approved of her choice.”
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