A modern amorality play about a 17-year-old girl, the wilder shores of connoisseurship, and the power of false friends
Maman was exigeante—there is no English word–and I had the benefit of her training. Others may not be so fortunate. If some other young girl, with two million dollars at stake, finds this of use I shall count myself justified.
Raised in Marrakech by a French mother and English father, a 17-year-old girl has learned above all to avoid mauvais ton ("bad taste" loses something in the translation). One should not ask servants to wait on one during Ramadan: they must have paid leave while one spends the holy month abroad. One must play the piano; if staying at Claridge’s, one must regrettably install a Clavinova in the suite, so that the necessary hours of practice will not be inflicted on fellow guests. One should cultivate weavers of tweed in the Outer Hebrides but have the cloth made up in London; one should buy linen in Ireland but have it made up by a Thai seamstress in Paris (whose genius has been supported by purchase of suitable premises). All this and much more she has learned, governed by a parent of ferociously lofty standards. But at 17, during the annual Ramadan travels, she finds all assumptions overturned. Will she be able to fend for herself? Will the dictates of good taste suffice when she must deal, singlehanded, with the sharks of New York?
DeWitt (Some Trick) delivers an explosive rebuke to sensationalistic American publishing in this smart and multilayered story. The precocious 17-year-old narrator, Marguerite, hails from Marrakech, Morocco, where her French mother ensured the servants' loyalty by paying their salaries through Ramadan plus two weeks additional leave, and who would travel to Scotland for the best tweeds, Ireland for linen, and London and Paris for tailoring. During a trip to Paris, her mother disappears. Marguerite's choice to foreground details about her mother's taste and discretion in a memoir she's writing, for which she has earned a seven-figure advance, confounds her editor, Bethany, whose exploitative or at least tone-deaf feedback and Marguerite's evenhanded responses alternate with Marguerite's narration. Bethany wants more "feelings" about how she was "traumatized," and suggests a ghostwriter; Marguerite replies that it's "best for me to write what I know," and their tension generates a thrilling sense of Marguerite's defiance. The details around the scandal that sparked the book deal, following Marguerite's mother's disappearance, come out later, after the reader learns that Marguerite has traveled to New York City to write the book. A showdown with Marguerite and Bethany in a French restaurant is worth the price of admission alone. DeWitt is at the top of her game.