In the glossy private world of Fifth Avenue teens, some millionaire parents will do, pay, or say anything to help their children ace the SATs.
Noah rose from humble beginnings and, through pure grit and resourcefulness, got himself through Princeton. Now staggering under the weight of massive student loans and dazzled by life in the big city, Noah enters the rarefied field of SAT tutoring in Manhattan, working one-on-one with the spoiled, gorgeous children of the American aristocracy.
He takes on the considerable academic challenges that are Dylan Thayer, a dissipated high school athlete-socialite, and his waifish sister Tuscany. Dylan won't lift a finger to do anything but pick up a lacrosse stick, and Tuscany is avidly pursuing her own downfall via drugs and relationships with men more than twice her age. But their mother, a self-medicating pediatrician, has ambitious plans for them in spite of their shortcomings -- and she has plans for their SAT tutor as well.
Trying to build his own life while living on a shoestring in Harlem and flirting with his beautiful roommate keeps Noah busy enough, but the needs of the glamorous, struggling Thayer kids and the inappropriate advances of their mother prove all-consuming. As deadlines for college admissions near and the SAT tension builds, Noah finds himself presented with a Faustian bargain, and he must make a moral decision that will affect him and his students for years to come.
With echoes of The Devil Wears Prada, The Nanny Diaries, and Bright Lights, Big City, Glamorous Disasters is an incisive portrayal of a small and privileged world, a cautionary tale written by a Harvard grad who was once an SAT tutor himself -- an outsider who became a magnificently observant insider.
Schrefer's debut novel about an SAT tutor to the children of Manhattan's elite bears a superficial resemblance to The Nanny Diaries, but his well-plotted morality tale offers no comic relief. Noah is fresh out of Princeton a brainy 24-year-old who worked his way out of an impoverished, rural Virginia childhood and wants to be a professor to "make it into a more genteel world." To pay off $80,000 in college loans, Noah, who lives in Harlem, tutors the children of Fifth Avenue families like the Thayers for $395 an hour, regretting the leg up he gives these already advantaged kids. The megamoney manager father and youthful, pediatrician mother are referred to only as "Mr. and Dr. Thayer" throughout. Mr. Thayer is largely absent and Dr. Thayer competes with her 16-year-old daughter, Tuscany, while ghostwriting essays for her 17-year-old druggie lacrosse-playing son, Dylan. When Dylan's scores don't improve despite Noah's best efforts, Dr. Thayer offers Noah a Faustian bargain that would settle his loans at the cost of his scruples. Schrefer (a private tutor himself) confirms what we always suspected about the ber-rich, tempering the novel's easy momentum and voyeurism with insightful if plodding class-conscious social critique: "The scale of money looms here, is too large to be comprehended, like geologic time to a human life span."