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This Vacant Paradise

3.21  ·  Rating details ·  199 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews

The 1990s—Newport Beach, California. Money is God. A man’s worth is judged by the size of his boat, the make of his car. A woman’s value is assessed by the blank perfection of her quantifiable desirability: dress size, cup size, the whiteness of her teeth. And oh yes: her youth. Though Esther Wilson, the heroine of Victoria Patterson’s profound and electric debut novel, ha

Kindle Edition, 322 pages
Published (first published June 10th 2009)
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Community Reviews

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Rating details
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Feb 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, reviewed, romance-y
Full disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review.
I knew nothing about Victoria Patterson or her previous work when I received this book, but I am always willing to try new things, so I love when I get to review something outside of my box. Reading the description for this book, I was fully prepared for a light, fun read, perhaps with a little bit of depth thrown in for good measure. Like a social satire in the spirit of Austen, for example.

But my goodness, was I wrong. This is no whi
Feb 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Victoria Patterson is brilliant. This modern day House of Mirth tells the story of Esther Wilson, whose beauty is her greatest asset. She knows this. Everyone knows this. Everyone, including Esther, expects her profit from it by marrying a rich man, no matter how unpleasant he may be. As Esther sabotages herself again again in this endeavor, however, her world begins to unravel and she begins to wonder who exactly she is and who, exactly, she can be. Read This Vacant Paradise for the story and t ...more
Jun 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-smiction
Retelling of the House of Mirth. I really love House of Mirth. This is a retelling in modern day Orange county. At first I was ready to pretty confidently shoot it down as not working. The same scenario of dependence on wealth and a good marriage is much more convincing in a novel set a century or more ago and the characters in This Vacant Paradise just seemed incredibly shallow. And they are, but somehow they author manages to make you complicit in that. The roles the characters play are create ...more
Jun 21, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a really cautious thumbs-up, so buyer beware.

I got this book because it was about Orange County, CA. ( where I live), written by an Orange County woman, and the NYT review I read said that it was a modern day version of Edith Wharton's "House of Mirth" (which I love). The story line revolves around Esther, a beautiful girl who has had money all her life and suddenly has none, but is dependent on her rich bitch of a grandmother's whimsical attention. She lives in an oceanside house in Ne
Mar 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I was introduced to Victoria Patterson through her essay in the wonderful collection, Bound to Last. This is her first novel, set in Newport Beach, CA. Esther Wilson is poised on the fault line between privilege and economic distress. Her beauty and the demands of super matriarch Grandma Eileen require a suitable husband if only she can find one that appeals to her at least a little. The trouble is that at 33, time is running out, not to mention that her current suitor fills her with boredom an
Dec 16, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Excited to remember our time in SoCal, especially during the midwest winter, but I couldn't finish this book:

- Beginning on page 6, there were graphic descriptions of the female body and sexual acts. It felt pornographic to me. I am shocked the writer is female, she seems devoid of normal feminine sensitivities. It felt like a book that a horny man would write.

- The characters depicted as evil/repressive in this book seem to be rich, republican, religious, racist and "anti-gay". It contained all
Feb 04, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was supposed to be a 90s Californian House of Mirth. I haven't read HoM in a long time but this didn't ring any bells*. Ultimately it left me cold. Also, it was a little like oh ho ho, look at my super 90s references! Friends! OJ Simpson!

*I later re-read House of Mirth, which I clearly didn't remember very well because at least at the beginning there are a lot of character parallels with This Vacant Paradise. HOWEVER, this is still pretty totally different and not in a good way.
Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Stopped after Part One. The reason I started reading this was that it's billed as a retelling of House of Mirth, irresistible to a Wharton fan. Well, not. Patterson has no compassion for her characters. She also likes to use Really Big and/or Obscure Words ,so much so that you notice them.
Sigh. Time to read H of M for the umpteenth time and empathize (whoopsie-Big Word) with Lily Bart's tragic slide.
Jul 19, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well crafted, contemporization of my favorite, Edith Wharton's House of Mirth, but as with the original.....
Weird ending.
Mar 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an update/retelling of Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, which I read recently (no doubt because I put it on my list way back when I read the review of this book). The echoes of Wharton’s book were really interesting, but in the end it felt more like a literary exercise to me than a novel in itself, and I never believed in Patterson’s Esther the way I believed in Lily Bart. Plus, she lacked some of Lily’s moral core - she actually did some of the things that led to her being talked about ...more
Jenene Morgan
Mar 14, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I decided to read this book because the description had me believing that the protagonist had an epiphany about her shallow life and decided to break away from it to live out a more meaningful purpose. That's not what happened at all.

While the characters are vivid, realistic, and fleshed out, they don't seem to grow a lot. There is very little character development, which made the whole book feel quite depressing from beginning to end. I do not recommend this book at all.
Susan Becraft
Sep 03, 2015 rated it really liked it

Victoria Patterson chose the perfect title for her book about Newport Beach, California, and I chose the title for this review because it was the first word that came to my mind. The Newport Beach I remember is a microcosm of what ails our society, and I moved across the country to get as far away as possible as soon as I could. Yes, I could have lived elsewhere in Orange County, but I would have been surrounded by people whose goal was to own a McMansion in Newport. I am an admitted
Mar 09, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
*This book pales in comparison to Wharton’s House of Mirth, although I give the author credit for an interesting idea. Unfortunately there is not one likeable (or even sympathetic) character, the sex scenes are tedious (this is an actual quote: “ ‘Oh, he said, ‘oh, oh.’ ‘Oh,’ she responded, ‘oh, oh, oh’” (166)), and the minutiae overwhelming. We simply do not need descriptions of every mouthful of food, every sip of whatever, and every mouth wipe with a napkin.

“But he could feel his ego pawing a
Apr 27, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I kept reading because I love the idea of reading an author's re-imagining of another book I've loved. In this case it was Wharton's "House of Mirth." The setting is Los Angeles, the general moral compass is "vacant" and the characters, except perhaps for Rick and Nora, are lost. Rick takes care of the main character, Esther's demented, aging, alcoholic grandmother. He does so with unbelievable tenderness. My mother would have loved him in her last years. But even the occasionally lovely sentenc ...more
Apr 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jane by: read/heard a review
Shelves: fiction
I had a slow start with this book and put it down, but when I picked it back up, I got hooked right away. I think it is a thoughtfully written novel, humorous at times and heart-wrenching at others. Its depictions of Orange County life can seem over the top, but simultaneously I thought the author did an excellent job at capturing aspects of inner life and family dynamics. It is unusual to find a contemporary novel that makes a theme of shame and deals so well its effects among the characters an ...more
Jun 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book, though it is not a "fun" book. It's a tragedy. I can attest that there are real-life Esthers out there. For them the ending often is tragic.

In my experience, as hard as it is for people who have never had wealth, and yearn to get it; I think it is much harder for folks who had it in youth, lost it, and yearn to get it back.

Esther was tragic, more so because she was unable to live in the moment and accept life for what it was, and so life slipped through her fingers. A
Katie Maguire
Mar 28, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was indescribably awful, and the only reason I didn't give it zero stars is that it was somewhat intriguing to figure out which characters in this book corresponded to the real ones from House of Mirth. The NYTimes gave it a halfway decent review and House of Mirth is my favorite book ever so I figured I'd give it a try. The writing is atrocious and the plot implausibly simplistic, with the addition of totally gratuitous backstory that contributes nothing to character development or th ...more
Mar 21, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This came highly recommended but I found it a pretty dull slog until the last thirty pages. That's when the characters seem to show promise and life. And then it was over.

I loved the description of Fashion Island, but Newport Beach is so ripe for skewering, and having spent way too much time around there during the midnineties, I felt the author could have done so much more with the setting, the flash-and-crash crowd. So I guess I had expectations.

In sum: I thought it was a little more Theodore
Anise Stevens
I'd recommend this book for a woman in her early twenties or an undergrad. The protagonist's main concern is figuring what she wants from life after realizing she's always done what is expected. While the writing is good and the characters true life, I couldn't get past page 200 because the subject matter didn't intrigue me at this point in my life. For Edith Wharton fans, this is a modern day House of Mirth.
I read Patterson's collection of interconnected short stories, Drift, last year and liked it quite a bit better than this, her first novel. Same setting and themes: people at the far lower end of the middle class, or just barely hanging on to that lower rung, trying to get by in the keeping-up-with-the-Jones world of glitzy Newport Beach. Vacant Paradise was an adequate read, but the stories were more skillfully rendered.
Dec 23, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is the second time I picked up this book and attempted to read it. Got further this time because I was held captive in a dentist waiting room for over an hour and there was nothing else to do, so I made it about halfway.

This book was full of losers, posers and parasites. I'm not sure any of them actually redeemed themselves or became thankful for what they have, because by that point, I didn't care.
Apr 11, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Patterson makes a convincing case that 1990s Newport Beach might as well be the setting for a turn-of-the last-century novel because concerns for class lead its characters into the same plot lines as those in Edith Wharton's House of Mirth. All the fun is in the set-up--the second half seems more forced.
Amy Wilder
Apr 27, 2011 marked it as to-read
Awesome! House of Mirth retold in modern day Newport Beach? Can it end more happily? I hope so.

Saw her read, very close adaptation of the original with thoughtful updates and an equally compelling heroine. It was the GoodReads pick of the night, and I'm impressed with those of you who picked it.
Abby Frucht
Feb 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love this wise, elegant, gritty contemporary reiteration of Edith Wharton's House of Mirth. The latter is one of my all time favorites, in part because of its handling of wealth and penury, money and sexuality,the constant exchange of different types of currency. Victoria Patterson nails that, too, and reading her novel with the other in mind (and heart) is riveting.
Lindsey Benage
Well, it was nice to read a chic lit book with some depth exploring social class between the rich and the poor (had some memorable quotes about such) but, I found the book very disjointed at times and at times hard to follow. I enjoyed that the ending was tied up in a pretty little bow because that isn't real life but not the most enjoyable book I have read, would probably not recommend.
Mar 19, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The arc of this story is nicely conceived. I enjoyed not knowing where the story was going. The distasteful characters, however, were distracting, and I nearly quit reading, so I easily could have missed seeing the well crafted arc.
Dec 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't put it down. The characters are so well-defined, I felt like I knew them well. The writing is beautiful, descriptions of the Southern California landscape - particularly the many colors and textures of the ocean - so vivid.
Feb 20, 2011 marked it as interesting-possibilities  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cheryl by: First Reads
Description sounded interesting: "Victoria Patterson shines a keen and often wickedly humorous light on our very American obsessions with class, race, age, and the roles of men and women in our strive toward upward mobility."
Gene Knauer
Apr 05, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Poorly written, one-dimensional characters. I hated this book.
Mar 07, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The plot was somewhat interesting, if vapid and slow-moving, but the writing just felt very flat to me and I could not motivate myself to keep reading.
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Victoria Patterson’s story collection The Secret Habit of Sorrow is forthcoming from Counterpoint Press in July 2018. She’s the author of the novel The Little Brother, which Vanity Fair called “a brutal, deeply empathetic, and emotionally wrenching examination of American male privilege and rape culture.” She is also the author of the novels The Peerless Four and This Vacant Paradise, a 2011 New Y ...more
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