By Amy Brozio-Andrews

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Clueless
Susan Jane Gilman
Warner Books

I admit it—I judged this book by the cover—at least initially in this case. A photo of a girl with her chin in her hand, surrounded by white tulle, wearing her tiara along with striped black and red tights and big black boots, topped off with a sparkly wand made Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Clueless irresistible to me. And fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed. Susan Jane Gilman’s second book (after Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a Smart Mouth Goddess) is as quirky and eclectic as the cover child’s fashion sense.

It seems strange to think of women in their thirties writing memoirs; have we really lived and learned enough to pass on? In Gilman’s case, the answer is yes—even if it’s only confirming for her readers that we’re not alone in having done lots of nutty things in the process of growing up and finding out who we are. Gilman’s book opens with her childhood; she was a white girl growing in up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood on the Upper West Side. She and her friends were raised by parents who worked hard to teach their children to be color blind, so much so that these kids actually spent quality play time trying not to see each other’s skin: “His skin was the golden brown of pancake syrup, and the rest of us squinted at him, trying to make him appear translucent.” Unfortunately, all Gilman and her friends were able to do was look silly running around with their faces all screwed up.

Hypocrite in a White Pouffy Dress is the rare, truly laugh-out-loud book. In kindergarten, Gilman used show and tell to fantasize and embellish: her parents were changing her name to Sapphire, her mother was having a baby, and the family was moving to a big house in New Jersey with a pool. As a college co-ed, heading down South from Rhode Island with a friend (one with a car, naturally) for a quickie with her boyfriend seemed like a great idea (if they disregarded the speed limit, they figured they could make it in under twenty four hours). While interviewing a well-known rabbi over lunch as a reporter for The Jewish Week, Gilman’s choice of entree creates a scandal that prompts her editor to arrange for a coworker to tutor her in Judaism. In Gilman’s hands, each of her experiences are shared with a certain awareness of the absurdity of it, while making it clear she really had no choice; readers can clearly see how each of the scrapes Gilman gets herself into seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time.

While the opening chapter is a bit slow, the succeeding chapters pick up speed with witty dialogue, Gilman’s memorable friends and family, and her comedic timing. She certainly achieves her stated goal, from the “Author’s Soapbox,” otherwise known as the introduction: “It’s my hope that these ‘coming of age’ stories will make readers laugh, and prove once and for all that a girl doesn’t need a guy in her life in order to act like a complete idiot. Certainly I, at least, never have.” Highly recommended, Gilman’s book is sure to become the kind of dog-eared paperback that readers pass on to their sisters and friends.

Citizen Girl
Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus
Atria Books

Just out of college, idealistic, and enthusiastic, Girl works for a nonprofit organization dedicated to women’s issues. Although she has earned a college degree, it seems that her boss won’t delegate to her anything more complicated that making copies; Girl isn’t even qualified to select the color of the paper to be used when making copies. After a promise to deliver a long-researched presentation at an upcoming conference falls through, Girl attempts to take control of the situation with her boss and only ends up getting herself fired.

Desperate and almost broke in the ultra-competitive New York City economy and housing market, Girl ends up at a job fair that could easily pass for a rave. Connecting with Guy, she soon gets hired at My Company, Inc. Doing what, she isn’t quite sure, but as the new Director of Rebranding Knowledge Acquisition, Girl is determined to do it well. With her background in women’s issues, Girl is tapped to work on re-slanting the company’s beauty website and bringing feminist users on board. Zigging when she should be zagging it seems, Girl just can’t get it right. The instructions she receives from Guy are vague, and the results of her work are hazy; first Guy blows her off, then seizes on one aspect of her work and commands her to run with it, and in an about-face, questions what she’s doing. Just when she thinks she’s about to get another pink slip, things at My Company really take off. But when Girl realizes she’s in over her head, will she be able to stand up for herself and risk getting it chopped off?

Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus’s second book after the best-selling The Nanny Diaries, Citizen Girl is a satirical look at the working world in the new economy. Witty and astute, the writers set up Girl for a sucker punch of an epiphany.

While not caricatures, the characters are certainly stylized to a certain extent, and there’s plenty of opportunity to read into character and company names. Citizen Girl comes across as sort of a fable for grown ups -- what happens when the fresh-faced co-ed goes out into the “real world” and sees how the world really works. If it doesn’t kill her, will it really make her stronger?

McLaughlin and Kraus are a terrific writing team. It’s impossible to tell where one’s writing begins and the other’s ends; they truly write with one voice. They’ve got the corporate lingo down pat; anyone who’s ever worked for a large company will knowingly roll their eyes when Girl’s head spins after meetings with the corporate bigwigs who all but speak another language. McLaughlin and Kraus’s writing style is clipped and edgy, adding to the urban feel of the novel.

Citizen Girl is a fast-moving book, full of dialogue and thought provoking turns of events as Girl confronts the corporate monster she unwittingly helped create.



© Melt Magazine 2005