In the classic primer that Pulitzer Prize ' winning playwright Wasserstein (The Heidi Chronicles) names her dishy first novel after, Strunk & White note, "Style not only reveals the spirit of the man but reveals his identity." Wasserstein tries to apply that aphorism to Manhattan's wealthy elite shortly after 9/11. Upper East Side pediatrician Francesca "Frankie" Weissman doesn't have quite as much disposable income as the Manolo moms and Bonpoint babies that frequent her office. She's drawn into the city's circles of old and new money, including those of blue-blooded Samantha Acton; reinvented Californian Judy Tremont; and self-made film mogul Barry Santorini, son of a South Philly cobbler. As mothers stockpile Cipro and gas masks after 9/11, none of them stops believing that "life could be controlled if only you had the right resources." As the question of how, when and with whom Frankie will couple narrows, the novel hits a disconcerting number of false notes: points of view shift with jarring speed, a bathetic account of a suicide bombing rankles and it is hard to care much about characters who utter such lines as "That's love, babe. You always have to give 200 percent." But Wasserstein gets the trappings and tribulations (of friendship and of romance) right, making her depiction of the rich and fab trying to connect with one another witty and entertaining. (Apr.)
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April 18, 2006
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Excerpt from Elements of Style by Wendy Wasserstein
Frankie Weissman pushed open the door to her new offices with two double-sized Penny Whistle Toys shopping bags. After spending the morning on her hospital rounds, she had gone into the store just to look. Soon she fell under the spell of a motorized "furr real" pink poodle and Smart Cindy, a foot-tall scholarly doll equipped with 16,000 megabytes of intelligence. Frankie was certain that within an hour she would be hearing her patients' parents warning them, "Be careful. You don't know where Smart Cindy's been," or "Don't play with the poodle. You could get anthrax." But at least Frankie knew she was making a fresh start.
"Dr. Weissman, Dr. Steele is on line one for you." Rosita the receptionist looked up from the desk as Frankie walked into the waiting room.
Frankie's jaw tightened. The part of her that was both a Princeton College and Harvard Medical School graduate secretly believed that people who insisted on calling themselves "doctor" generally had credentials like "director, International Hair Club for Men."
"Tell him I'll call him back." Frankie lowered her head. She had learned over the years never to make eye contact when walking into a waiting room.
As she furtively glanced around for obvious catastrophes, she was simultaneously pleased and a little anxious that the office was packed. After almost fifteen years of experience, Frankie viewed general pediatrics as twenty percent emergency and the rest an oddly seasonal practice early September school checkups, Presidents' Day pneumonia, spring break sprains, and Fourth of July poison ivy. But this September the World Trade Center disaster had altered all familiar routine. Only now, in October, were the prominent city mothers putting their tumbling tots' medical permission slips in order.