Author: Beth Gutcheon
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: March 20, 2012
Back before my blogging days, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Beth Gutcheon's The New Girls about four prep-school classmates from the 60's who reunite as adults. Some components of Gossip were similar to that which makes me wonder if this is a common theme coursing throughout multiple books of hers. Anyway, my enjoyment of The New Girls excited me when I saw she had a new book coming out; and it's set in NYC so, wa-la! Of course I had to read it.
Gossip is narrated by Loviah French who owns a dress shop on the upper east side of Manhattan where she is often patronized by the wealthiest and those of high society New York. She has two best friends from back in prep school who couldn't be more different than each other. There's Dinah Wainwright who is incredibly gregarious and writes gossip for a tabloid; and there's Avis Metcalf -- prim, proper, and naive.
This is really a look at high society life and the ways in which the people perpetuate gossip about each other and, in some ways, how this affects everyone involved. It's very subtle, though. The big title word, GOSSIP, gave me the impression this would be a fully scandalous read. But instead it was a lighter, though no less perceptive, look into their lives. For instance:
It is my observation that the people who enjoy money the most are the ones who weren't born with it. For the congenitally rich, money creates a kind of cage, a structure of manners and expectations they don't dare question, because if they do they might discover they don't know who they are. For our classmates at school it was the water they swam in, isolating them in ways they sometimes never understood. (p.179)And this, more about people in general:
The men on the ferry who wished to declare themselves old Nantucket hands wore baseball hats or shorts in a color that looks weather-beaten even when new, called Nantucket red. The tourists would all have hats in this color by the tie they made the return trip. We all want either to belong somewhere or for others to think we do. (p.224)Loviah is frequently placed in a situation, due in part to her job and in part to her social interactions, to hear gossip about various people she knows and sometimes about her friends. This places her in a position of deciding whether or not to share with her friends what's being said about them. Loviah even partakes in possibly gossip-able activity, though we don't really hear about it probably due to her being the narrator.
Other than these interactions, there doesn't seem to be a big event in the plot until the last quarter of the book. For the first while reading Gossip, I sort of wondered where it was going. But along the way I became involved with the characters, and when the climactic stuff did happen I was attached to the characters and was shocked. Jealousy was another gossip-related theme that played throughout the book.
Allow me one additional, somewhat off-topic, passage that hit home for me humorously:
You do, however, have to figure out the Brooklyn subways by yourself, and I made a hash of it and at first went the wrong way, deeper into Brooklyn instead of toward home. By the time I realized my mistake, I had to wait what felt like forever in a virtually empty station... I had no idea what sort of world was overhead, whether there was a bustling brightly lit street full of taxis, or a neighborhood as dark and quiet above as the station below, so I felt I had no choice but to stay where I was and hope that a train arrived before something unpleasant did. At last a Q train arrived, not a line I understood at all, but it was brightly lit and going toward Manhattan, neither of which you could say about the bench where I'd been sitting, so I got on... The subway is like that after hours. What had possessed me to go to an outer borough at night by myself? (p. 259-260)I have done this a few, but too many, times (not alone, fortunately, but with my husband). My last visit (last week) involved walking around Brooklyn one night, with no one else in sight, searching for the subway to head back to Manhattan... not smart... need to plan better! And I totally understand the relief of the train arriving and it not mattering what train it is because it's headed in the direction of heavily populated areas!
Gossip was a fairly short read that I was unsure about in the beginning but ultimately enjoyed. I would recommend for those interested in human nature, the life of the semi-famous and well-to-do, and of life in NYC.