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Lifestyle by Peter Warner (Viking: $16.95; 212 pp.)

August 24, 1986|Anne Thompson | Thompson, a former New Yorker, is the West Coast editor of Film Comment magazine. and

Summertime, and the reading is easy, as publishers churn out breezy escapist fare intended for urban professionals' lazy weekends.

Although Thames and Hudson president Peter Warner wrote one mystery ("Loose Ends") 14 years ago, his new book, "Life-style," a farce about a trendy Manhattan magazine, reads like a semi-autobiographical first novel. "Lifestyle's" comic hero, George Werble (a self-conscious first-person narrator in the '60s Updike/Salinger mode) is the haplessly handsome new wunderkind publisher of Lifestyle magazine, a second-rate, post-'70s mix of Cosmo and Self.

Werble, who wants to escape his conventional suburban background but doesn't quite realize how dissatisfied he is, mildly lampoons his insanely idiotic new work milieu while effecting a brilliant careerist-'80s shift--"The New Ostentation"--for the magazine. Werble is portrayed as a savvy marketing man with sound editorial ideas. He is also an insouciant, punning hero who is supposed to be delightfully amusing, but Warner's carefully whipped souffle falls flat. Caught in a rainstorm in pursuit of "The Fashionable Affair," Werble says, "I was moist by my own petard."

Warner's attempt to write a book "in the tradition of Peter DeVries" (according to the jacket blurb) comes off limp and out of date. At least "Reuben, Reuben" was sexy. Very late in this remarkably chaste novel, Werble finds Serious Romance--and with it, self-awareness and liberation. "Lifestyle" reminds me of a movie starring Ralph Bellamy. He finds himself terribly amusing, the rest of us find him a crashing bore.

When I go on vacation, the New York magazine novel I'm packing is Judith Krantz's.

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