All is Vanity
Ah, the struggling writer trying to get published. All is Vanity is one of those books. I actually tend to enjoy this kind of storyline, but wonder to myself while I am reading them whether or not the author will ever be able to write about characters who do something other than try to be writers. I think about Ann Patchett or Margaret Atwood or any other writer who really knows how to create fictional worlds that are more than just embellished autobiography.
Perhaps I am so aware of this kind of writing because it is probably all I would ever be capable of. When I attempted to write fiction it was all very autobiographical. I figured if I made the main character something other than a writer I could get away with it without ever having to admit borrowing heavily from my own life. A popular method for lazy or unimaginative writers. Another parallel between All is Vanity and my own feeble attempts at writing a novel is the fact that Schwarz’s main character is a thirtysomething writer who decides to skip over taking classes, or starting with short stories, or any other activity that might actually help her become a writer. Like I did, she also thinks that it is just a matter of applying yourself. Sit down and write. It will come. Margaret’s delusional goals, however, are different from mine in that she thinks she is going to actually write a great novel with all kinds of layered meaning and profound imagery. I never thought I would even try to do that.
But enough about me. I enjoyed All is Vanity but there is much that annoyed me as well. The basic plotline is that Margaret ends up using long emails from her best friend Letty as the basis for the novel she is writing. She takes whole scenes from her Letty’s life and writes them up as fiction without telling her. What’s worse is that she actually encourages Letty’s profligate behavior in real life to make the “fictional” Lexie more interesting. You can see where this one is going from about a mile away. You know at some point, that Letty is going to find out, blah, blah, blah. Kind of writes itself from that point on. All is Vanity also included lots (and lots) of epistolary material (email) that include a fair amount “quoted” dialogue. Regular readers will know that this is one of my pet peeves. People just don’t write emails that way.
Schwarz does do an amazing job showing through Letty how so many Americans have gotten themselves into such deep financial sh*t. The interesting thing is that Schwarz wrote about it about five years before the housing market meltdown made it impossible for folks to ignore their mountains of debt.
But finally, to show you just what a class act Schwarz is (although it might be her publisher’s fault) I am going to quote, in full, the author blurb inside the back cover of the book:
Christina Schwarz is the author of Drowning Ruth, a bestseller in both hardcover and paperback, which was selected for Oprah’s Book Club and optioned by Wes Craven for Miramax.She lives in New Hampshire.
Wow, where to start with that illuminating biographical sketch? Let me try, this could be translated to:
I sell lots of books, no really, I sell a mother lode of books, the numbers would make you blush, and by the way it might be made into a movie so I will eventually sell even more books. Oh, and I live in New Hampsire (big house, lots of land).
All really is vanity.