“The Best of Everything” (or: “Wide-Eyed College Girls & the City”)May 18th, 2011 at 9:17 pm ET
The very first book I bought on Kindle (for iPhone), more than two years ago now, was Joanna Smith Rakoff’s A Fortunate Age (on Andrew Hearst’s recommendation). The book proved to me that it was indeed possible to read a book on the iPhone (and now I do about half my long-form reading on the iPad, which fact is worth its own post), but more importantly, it was a great read, and it reminded me that “young girls come up to New York City, full of hope and promise” was a classic American genre.
I’d seen The Women, of course, and Thoroughly Modern Millie, not to mention dozens of Mary Tyler Moore episodes; and those, and Rakoff’s book, had me on the lookout for other examples. So I was delighted to come across Rona Jaffe’s 1958 novel The Best of Everything, a classic of the genre.
There are moments in this book that feel dated to a contemporary New Yorker. (The sexual harassment is much more out in the open here than in any office I’ve ever worked in, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a man.) But most aspects of it are as current and real now as they were fifty years ago, and Jaffe captures what it feels like to be in that cusp-of-adulthood moment, I think, in a more generous and nuanced way than other novelists have. Certainly I recognized moments I remembered from my just-out-of-college years, when I was living outside Boston, working my first adult job and shopping at the Star Market on Mt. Auburn Street and half-faking an adult life while I figured out how to actually live one. I found it oddly reassuring that the experiences of Caroline and Gregg and their friends in the New York in the mid-fifties sounded just like my experiences 30 years later, and like the experiences I hear about now from my younger friends (now mostly living in Bushwick and Long Island City, as some things have indeed changed).
There aren’t that many half-century-old books that feel current, but change just a few things in this one, and it would. That speaks well for the vision of Jaffe, who was in her early twenties when The Best of Everything was published. There’s also a movie.ShareThis