South Beach in the late 1990s is a town of blink-and-you'll-miss-'em nightclubs populated by celebrities, models, mobsters, heiresses, drug dealers, drag queens, and fun seekers of all stripes. It's a place where the famous come to party like locals, the locals party like rock stars behind velvet ropes, and the press is savvy enough to know what not to report.
Rachel Baum is a sheltered, career-oriented everygirl when she moves to South Beach from her quiet Miami suburb, searching for a life less ordinary. Quickly making friends among SoBe's most exclusive scenesters, she spends her days building a career and her nights building a reputation. But in a town where friends become enemies faster than highs become hangovers, the life less ordinary turns into more than Rachel bargained for. As she pursues the endless party in penthouses, dive bars, after-hours clubs, and cocaine speakeasies, Rachel struggles to balance her goals and ambitions with the decadence and excess -- especially her drug-fueled, on-again off-again relationship with Yale-graduate-turned-addict John Hood -- that threaten to destroy everything she's always worked for.
With tremendous wit and razor-sharp insight, Diary of a South Beach Party Girl portrays the innermost sanctums of South Beach's privileged Beautiful People through the eyes of a no longer innocent heroine.
In her debut novel, former party girl Cooper smartly focuses on the fringe freaks who fueled the nightlife in the nauseatingly hip late 1990s South Beach: uber-publicist Ricky Pascal, petulant heiress Amy, sexy felon John Hood and a host of bar workers and bar hoppers who hobnob with the rich even as they scramble to make their own rent. Rachel Baum--poet, aspiring publicist and hard-partying diva--narrates the frenetic scene from a prime VIP-room seat. The air kissing, photo-ops and drug-and-liquor indulging is the price of admission to the much more subtle seduction of Rachel and her entourage. "South Beach was a town in the business of seduction," Rachel notes. "Sometimes the sheer, overwhelming beauty of the place and its inhabitants was so sharp, it was almost painful." Rachel's love affair with the South Beach party scene ends when her search for "stability versus chaos" takes precedence over the addictive charm of a community that so readily forgives and forgets every destructive bender she (and everyone else) goes on. But it hardly matters: South Beach--and all of its neon-vodka-narcotic glamour--is a much better draw than the predictable mellowing of a party chick. (Apr.)
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April 09, 2007
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Excerpt from Diary of a South Beach Party Girl by Gwen Cooper
I first met Amy Saragosi during what I now refer to as my Bell Jar phase. That is, for roughly twenty-five years I'd been busily fulfilling my destiny as achiever of good grades, winner of awards, and attainer of a respectable, middle-class lifestyle. I was closing in fast on the brass ring and I was exhausted.
Growing up in an upper-middle-class Miami suburb, I had been raised to expect everything and nothing. Everything in the sense that I would have -- as a matter of course -- a good education, a successful career, an equally successful husband, the exact right number of children, a big house with the requisite Florida swimming pool, and a healthy retirement fund. Nothing in the sense that there were no other acceptable options for me to pursue.
Overachievement was the philosophy I'd been bred into, and it was a philosophy I'd taken to heart. A volunteer and part-time political activist since my high school days, I'd selected a career in nonprofit administration because it seemed like the best way to do good (something that mattered a lot to me) while earning a name for myself in Miami's professional/political community (something that mattered just as much). I'd worked my way up through the ranks, assisted in part by active memberships in groups like the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Miami, the United Way of Miami-Dade's Young Leaders, and the Hannah Kahn Poetry Foundation. I even had a picture-perfect, up-and-coming Cuban boyfriend of nearly four years to whom, as was assumed by everybody -- myself included -- I would get engaged any second now. We had settled into a snug "starter" house on the outskirts of Coral Gables -- a neighborhood so old-money placid it could've been underwritten by Valium -- and everything was falling neatly into its designated place.
More and more, though, I'd begun feeling as if I didn't have one more promotion, Chamber of Commerce award, or evening of being charming to my fiance-to-be's high school friends left in me. I don't remember exactly when or why the persistent feeling of boredom I'd been living with for months became simply a dull emptiness. I just know that, eventually, I took to overeating, spontaneous crying jags, and an utterly prosaic sexual affair with a coworker. We'd drive to the cheap motels along Calle Ocho, patronized by prostitutes and porn addicts, where twenty-one dollars got you a room for two hours, free condoms, and no questions asked.
Every day I was being hollowed out bit by bit. I knew, somehow, that it was only a matter of time before the whole structure collapsed on itself and exposed me to everyone as a fraud who'd never been as bright or well-adjusted as she'd led them to believe. Most of my waking energy was spent in giving careful attention to the integrity of the facade, so that the failure lurking beneath the surface of the success-story-to-be would never see the light of day. I was tired all the time, taking lengthy naps after work that still didn't keep me from falling asleep most nights before ten o'clock.
Those of you who've ever taken Psych 101 or watched Oprah are probably saying to yourselves, Ah! She was depressed! Burnout . . . fear of failure . . . fear of success . . . classic case, really. And you're at least partially right. But, for me, it wasn't as abstract as all that. I wasn't self-destructive or suffering from a generalized fear of success.
I was afraid of succeeding because I was pretty sure that I hated everything I was supposed to succeed at.
An inveterate bookworm from as far back as I could remember, my imagination was always full of alternative lives I could be living in Paris among poets, or in L.A. among movie moguls, or in South American jungles among revolutionaries.