The jacket reads “In this glorious once-upon-a-time fairy tale come true, two beautiful college debs from Iowa make it to New York City, end up working at Tiffany’s and living the dream of every creer girl of the 1940s.”
It doesn’t sound like the kind of book that I normally read — but there’s a glowing review on the back as well, that states that it’s reminiscent of Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” — which I loved. Follow that up with the recommendation of a trusted friend, and I was all in. Within half an hour I realized that it was nothing like the sad, bittersweet tale of Capote, but was instead pure, nostalgic fluff.
Hey, they look kind of the same, right?
But false expectations aside, the book was, quite simply, delightful. There’s no depth to it, no emotional resonance, at least not to people of my generation. My guess is that it doesn’t apply to people of many generations — the book takes place during World War II, in a world of wealth and affluence. Allegedly, the two main characters are not wealthy — but they certainly enjoy more than my grandparents, who were either drafted into the military, or were living hand to mouth, holding down the proverbial fort while their men were overseas. This is the romanticized story of the War: when soldiers were in New York, young and strapping and handsome in their uniforms, not yet besmirched by war, when the movie stars were few and far between, but so so glamorous, where girls believe that they’re scrimping and saving but can still afford an apartment next to Columbia with a doorman.
There isn’t much to say about the book itself; it follows closely Marjorie and Marty, a pair of best friends and sorority sisters from Iowa, and the one, glorious summer that they spend in New York City, working as pages (the first women allowed on the floor!) at Tiffany. They explore the city, they giggle over boys, and they grapple with a coming of age tale that’s about seven years too late. It’s a memoir, and it reads like one: grandma’s nostalgic rememberings, looking at past romances through rose-colored glasses. It’s a love song to New York, and to Tiffany’s. It’s charming, unaffected and, i suspect, utterly forgettable.
Books about the War, it seems, are divided into three camps. There are the stories from the front: Catch-22, Ken Follett’s and Norman Mailer, and the Thin Red Line. There are the books about the homefront, which range from the romantic (Summer at Tiffany) to the child coming of age stories (the Chosen, A Separate Peace), and then, of course, the novels about the Holocaust (from “Number the Stars” for young adults to horrific memoirs like “Night”). I’m a little tempted to pick up my battered copy of “Trains” by Miriam Winter, and to contrast the story of a Jewish girl in hiding with that of Marjorie and Marty, but I don’t think I could handle the contrast. In a way, that is the greatest strength of “Summer at Tiffany” though it is surely unintended. The story of these good-hearted, pure Iowan girls, set in a time when a horrible genocide was occurring, have highlighted their very innocence and childishness. The entire novel is spent with them imagining themselves adult, and grown-up, and only the reader knows how little they know. It adds a subtle sadness that the novel itself lacks, a depth that the memoirist simply does not use.
It may not be “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” but it is certainly a better beach read, and miles better than most of the “chick lit” available during the summer months.