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BOOK REVIEW

'I'm So Happy for You,' a novel by Lucinda Rosenfeld

Jealousy arises in the friendship of two New Yorkers. It's a juicy, quick-footed tale from the author of 'What She Saw . . . '

July 28, 2009|Margaret Wappler

Jealousy has a range of settings. At boil, it's the green-eyed monster that destroys love affairs. At simmer, it's a twinge in the gut when we're confronted with something we covet. In third grade, it was the Cabbage Patch doll. In ninth grade, perfectly matched outfits from the Gap. In college, the Velvet Underground box set. In adulthood? A Craftsman in Silver Lake would be just fantastic, thank you.

The dirty secret of envy and its inverted twin, schadenfreude, is that it sparks up most in friendships, even if we're able to snuff it out quickly or use it for good. In the ironically titled "I'm So Happy for You," Lucinda Rosenfeld's take on female friendship threaded with resentment, the Brooklyn-based author of the heavily hyped "What She Saw . . . " and "Why She Went Home" digs into the dark heart of the platonic bond. It's a rare page-turner: No one is murdered and no time bombs tick -- just a friendship going to seed in the moneyed coliseum of New York City yuppiedom.

Like so many doomed couplings, it's one of opposites: Leftist magazine editor Wendy Murman is a Brooklyn apartment-dweller trying desperately to conceive a child with her tragically aging hipster-husband, who recently left his job to try screenwriting.

Her "best friend since college" is the glamorous Manhattanite Daphne Uberoff, a pillowy-lipped cyclone prone to having affairs with married men and making suicide threats.

Yet, for all her self-destruction, Daphne always has money, great outfits and a circle of outwardly supportive, if enabling, friends. Daphne's failures and strengths comfort and fascinate Wendy until Daphne seemingly changes overnight: She bags a wealthy lawyer, a Cobble Hill brownstone and Wendy's most elusive dream, a child in the womb.

Their rapport promptly devolves into a string of canceled plans and passive-aggressive e-mails, but Rosenfeld deftly suggests that their relationship has been empty for some time now, or at least lopsided in Wendy's favor.

The feat of Rosenfeld's quick-footed, juicy book is her fine shadings of two complicated but sympathetic figures, alone and in comparison. Neither woman falls into the stereotype of slit-eyed hellcat. Daphne might be self-involved, but even judgmental Wendy will grant that she never says a bad word about anyone.

The friendship doesn't rot in a bubble -- Wendy's husband, Adam, plays a role, as do several friends who flit in and out of the story (although sometimes these characters come a little close to caricatures). But if cut-out characters are familiar from "Sex and the City" and its ilk, Rosenfeld at least has fun with them. A few scenes between Wendy and Adam, however, ring a bit false, as if created out of convenience.

Far from other friendship sagas such as the 2007 movie "Notes on a Scandal," based on a Zoe Heller novel, with its creepy, dangerous edge, this novel's charms lie in its resolute kindness. The denouement isn't fierce but funny and wistful. Rosenfeld seems to want only the best for Daphne and Wendy: a witty, passionate life, examined just enough to decide on the next object of desire.

--

margaret.wappler@latimes.com

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