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Review-a-Day
The Atlantic Monthly
Tuesday, July 1st, 2003


 

The Devil Wears Prada

by Lauren Weisberger

She-Devil

A review by Caitlin Flanagan

Judith Krantz for the new millennium! Lauren Weisberger has produced a work of trash fiction of such unimpeachable quality — I enjoyed every page — that the golden girls of the form can hang up their spurs. The Devil Wears Prada, which is apparently based on its author's tenure as the Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour's assistant, takes for its plot the old story handed down through the ages: young lovely from good family moves to Manhattan, takes job in glamorous industry, encounters dissipation and human venality of every stripe, and emerges either tarnished or triumphant (in this case — being chick lit — the latter). Weisberger — a prodigy: Cornell University, class of 1999 — understands that this kind of story must be composed of a certain kind of prose. To say that The Devil Wears Prada is cliché-ridden wouldn't be quite right; it's cliché-constructed. By novel's end the head of the heroine, Andrea Sachs, has swum, it has spun, it has felt like it would explode; her heart has flip-flopped, lurched, and stopped beating altogether (she bounced right back); her stomach has churned, her brain has been wracked, her body has been rooted to the floor, and — who can blame her? — she has breathed a sigh of relief.

The burden of Andrea's complaint (one senses very strongly that the opinions and attitudes of author and heroine are as one) is that when she graduated from college and got a job as personal assistant to the editor in chief of a fashion magazine, she ended up with the worst boss in the history of the whole wide world. Miranda Priestly is human evil incarnate: she forgets Andrea's name, forces her to make two trips to Starbucks in a single morning, never once compliments her on her clothes. On one level this is a straightforward revenge novel, but on a (slightly) deeper one it's really about the ice-water shock of leaving college and getting a real job. Like many young people in this new and unpleasant situation, Andrea both aggrandizes her importance to her boss (she believes that Miranda's every slight is carefully orchestrated to demoralize her) and insists that she alone understands the shallowness, the emptiness, the hollow misery that is her employer's life. The whole thing explodes in a big confrontation at a Paris fashion show that is the embodiment of every first-jobber's favorite fantasy ("Fuck you, Miranda, Fuck you"). There are countless entertaining descriptions of clothes and office procedures and fits of pique; Weisberger writes with the passionate intensity of a ninth-grader whose pride has been wounded, and I forgave her much. For some reason the novel, which has no literary pretensions whatsoever and which I read because a friend recently impulse-purchased it for me at Costco, is being taken seriously. It was reviewed in the New York Times by a former editor in chief of Harper's Bazaar who was herself "mentored by Anna Wintour" during eight years at Vogue (was Wintour herself unavailable to write the review?), and who unloads the big guns on Weisberger, which she probably deserves. But nothing can hurt a book like this (my dental hygienist all but pried it from my hands when she saw the title); a career has begun.


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