It’s very hard to come up with unique sentences, something never uttered before. Today, for example, I saw some Hare Krishnas on a fire drill. But I wasn’t the only one and I’m sure other people will go home tonight and recount that over dinner: Hey hon, I saw the Hare Krishnas on a fire drill.
But what I’m about to write, this just might be a unique sentence. Or, at the very least, a unique claim. When I finished reading Charles Baxter’s The Soul Thief, I decided to follow that up by re-reading Scruples. Of all the people on the planet, who else has done that? Who else would admit it?
First, the memory part: When I was 20, I got stuck at a scary-nasty hotel near LaGuardia because there was a screw-up with my ticket back to Chicago. I picked up a paperback copy of Scruples and read late into the night, glad for the distraction. There were some scary noises in that hotel.
Last month, a longtime book person remarked to me that there had never been another book quite like Scruples, that even Judith Krantz had been unable to replicate it.
Then I happened to see a handsome, trade paperback version of it and thought — I need that. I wanted to be reminded of the 20-year-old who had read it, but also think about why the book had been such a phenomenon when it was published in the late ’70s.
I found myself charmed by the anthropological aspect of it. If Judith Krantz had provided the same kind of detail about, say, coal mining, she might have been hailed as one of the great modern realists of our time. But, of course, she chose to direct her eye toward the shopping/eating/sexing habits of the very rich. And while the third part feels the most dated in many ways (closeted homosexuality is a big plot point in Scruples), the information about fashion and food is fascinating. Dated, too, but it’s as if one is reading the early chapters of the U.S.’s embrace of luxury goods. I was particularly charmed by a description of a chic, popular Italian restaurant, which filled its windows with imported bottles of olive oil and “rare brands of pasta.” Oh, and flasks of Chianti hanging from the ceiling!
I’m still mulling the central story of Scruples, which is about a gorgeous (but once unlovely), rich (but once poor) woman who finds her full humanity through love. Late in the book, Billy, as she is known, notices changes in her two most valuable employees, Valentine (!) and Spider (!!!!). “Billy realized that . . . she didn’t know either of them very well . . . She might have been indignant, certainly puzzled, if someone had pointed out that her sensitivity to the changes in Spider and Valentine were signs of an even greater change in her.”
I don’t know, but I thought that was a pretty cool sentiment in the heart of a sex-and-shopping novel, as the form was known. It is followed by Billy’s realization that her marriage will succeed only if she has a professional passion that rivals her husband’s love of making movies.
In short: Scruples holds up better than I ever would have dreamed. Except for the sex.
So what books of your youth can you envision re-reading or have you re-read? How do you think they will age?