Rachel's Reviews > The Best of Everything

The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
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's review
Jun 16, 11

bookshelves: fiction
Read from June 10 to 16, 2011

When The Best of Everything was published in 1958, the cover price was 50 cents, and if it still sold for that today it would be way overpriced. I can't remember the last time I hated a book this much. I bear so much hostility for this book that I am practically giddy.

This is the story of four women who work for Fabian Publishing in New York in the early '50s. Ostensibly, Caroline is the smart ambitious one who wants to be an editor, April is the naive country girl who comes to the big city and transforms herself into a sophisticated beauty, and Gregg is the aspiring actress who rooms with Caroline. In actuality, they are all pretty much the same person with one goal in mind and that is force a man who clearly has no use for them to marry them immediately so that they can stop working. Caroline pines for Eddie, to whom she was engaged until he sent her a letter from France telling her he married someone else. April is in love with Dexter, whose parents apparently named him in the mistaken belief that he was a cat, and continues to be in love with him even though he insisted that she get an abortion (but took the sting out of it by saying, "we can get married in the spring") and then broke up with her by asking her opinion on which girl he should take with him on vacation. Gregg is in love with Broadway producer David Wilder Savage, and she shows her love by sitting outside his apartment with her ear pressed up against the exterior wall listening to him have sex with other women and then going through his garbage when the maid puts it out in the hall.

It's all pretty boring and repetitive. The women are cretins and the men are creeps. Virtually every conversation that takes place is the women trying to convince the men to marry them, or the women talking to each other about what tactics they can use to convince the men to marry them. Occasionally, one of the girls goes out with someone who likes her back (albeit temporarily) and then they have such sparkling conversations as,

"Oh, I love you!"

"I love you too!"

"I love you so much!"

"I love you so much too!"

It was scintillating.

And despite going into this knowing that a pop novel of the late '50s might in some ways be offensive to contemporary sensibilities, this book was really beyond the pale. It's overtly homophobic, with numerous references to "fairies," "fa--ots," and "men who might as well be women," and vaguely anti-Semitic (Caroline and Gregg refer to a character whose surname is Landis as "Bermuda Schwartz"). I was feeling disappointed that it didn't seem to be racist as well, but then late in the book Caroline wonders if, when she goes to a famous actor's hotel room, the door will be answered by a "sinister Oriental houseboy," and she also can't remember whether she took her dirty clothes down to the "Chinaman" who runs the laundry. Oh, Rona Jaffe, I'm so sorry I doubted you!

To summarize: don't read this book.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Sherry (new)

Sherry great review! Don't worry I won't read it. It's frightening how it seems to show the times for what they were.

Rachel I'm hoping it shows the 1950s as worse than they were, similar to how people in 2050 will look back at today's popular fiction and conclude that we were all obsessed with dating vampires.

message 3: by Sherry (new)

Sherry Unfortunately, Rachel, it was just fine for white european Americans, but definitely not for people of color or who were of any other faith besides Christian protestantism.

Thumbelilah I'm dying laughing...my cat's name is Dexter!

Rachel It's an excellent name for a cat. But for a human, it makes no more sense to me than "Rover" or "Fluffy" would.

message 6: by Madi (new) - added it

Madi So I just finished reading the book (didn't know much about it from before) and I was on my way to spilling my guts about how utterly frustrating it was until I read your comment. Could not have written this any better than you did. Ditto, your review went straight to my heart :)

Rachel Frustrating is a good way to describe it. I don't mind if something is dated, but this is practically prehistoric. It's scary to me that it still gets relatively good reviews when women now should be horrified by it.

Nancy Rossman Hey...didn't remember a book you hated so much. How about EAT PRAY PUKE (love)? Not fiction and therefore even more annoying and self-absorbed

Rachel I haven't read Eat, Pray, Love; it never struck me as something I'd be interested in. I did read Elizabeth Gilbert's Stern Men many years ago and I liked it well enough except for the ending, which I thought was either contrived or formulaic but I can't now remember exactly what my problem with it was. I would be interested in reading more fiction from her, but not her non-fiction.

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