This is a retelling of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, updated from Wharton's end-of-the 19th century story to today (1999). However, where Wharton's protagonist was a woman who went from riches to ruin because of societal pressures, Janowitz's character, Florence, has no one but herself to blame for her demise. As in Wharton's book, the protagonist is an adult orphan, rapidly spending her inheritance in order to maintain a place in high society. Florence is desperate to find a rich husband, repeatedly stating her firm belief that a woman's identity is defined by who she marries.
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The action opens as Florence goes to spend a weekend at a friend's house in the Hamptons. Although she doesn't even like her hostess, who treats her miserably, she hopes to meet some likely male prospects at the dinner party she's throwing. Things seem to be going well with her wooing of an unattractive but wealthy older man, but she ditches him to talk to an attractive but sleazy Italian, Rafaello.
However, the only man she has sex with is her hostess' husband, whom she acquieses to after he forces his way into her room and starts to molest her. Things go from bad to worse, when, due to her negligence, the hostess' daughter nearly drowns, the infidelity is discovered, and she's kicked out of the house. To get back home, she has to rely on Darryl, a man she had a fling with a few years before, but had rejected due to her belief that he was poor - he works as a legal advocate for the homeless. There are obvious clues that not only is Darryl wealthy, but that he is sincerely in love with Florence, but she is oblivious, holding him in disdain and instead developing an infatuation with Rafaello.
Back in the city, things go from bad to worse. Due to the gossipy fallout from the weekend, Florence is fired from her job at an auction house. Bills are piling up and her condo is threatening her with eviction, but instead of looking for a job, she throws herself into the social scene, attending parties and gallery openings, going shopping and buying ridiculously expensive and unnecessary items. She encounters an old friend who married "well," and is jealous of her "success," rather than seeing that she is unhappy and controlled. She meets a wealthy yet sincere and friendly woman, Tracer, but looks down on her because she doesn't share her obsession with the "right" clothes and accessories.
She continues to pursue Rafaello, although he's married, his friends ridicule her, he disrespects her sexually, and he finally gets her addicted to crack. The girl who nearly drowned dies, and she is blamed. Darryl, still in love, proposes to her, but she rejects him again, flinging him at Tracer. Broke and desperate, coming ever closer to the derelicts on the street, she stoops to taking an unethical job, but it makes no money. She considers illegally selling jewelry stolen from a client of her old auction house - finally alienating even Darryl by trying to implicate him. Evicted from her condo, she hits bottom in this study of modern self-destructive behavior.
The review of this Book prepared by Althea Morin