Summary and book reviews of All Is Vanity by Christina Schwarz

All Is Vanity

by Christina Schwarz

All Is Vanity
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2002, 258 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2003, 258 pages

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Book Summary

At once darkly comic and moving, this witty exploration of female friendship, envy, and misguided ambition deliciously satirizes the desire to shine in the world.

At once darkly comic and moving, this witty exploration of female friendship, envy, and misguided ambition by the author of the number-one bestseller Drowning Ruth, deliciously satirizes the desire to shine in the world.

In All is Vanity, Margaret and Letty, best friends since childhood and now living on opposite coasts, reach their mid-thirties and begin to chafe at their sense that they are not where they ought to be in life. Margaret, driven and overconfident, decides the best way to rectify this is to quit her job and whip out a literary tour de force. Frustrated almost immediately and humiliated at every turn, Margaret turns to Letty for support. But as Letty, a stay-at-home mother of four, begins to feel pressured to make a good showing in the upper-middle-class Los Angeles society into which her husband’s new job has thrust her, Margaret sees a plot unfolding that’s better than anything she could make up. Desperate to finish her book and against her better nature, she pushes Letty to take greater and greater risks, and secretly steals her friend’s stories as fast as she can live them. Hungry for the world’s regard, Margaret rashly sacrifices one of the things most precious to her, until the novel’s suspenseful conclusion shows her the terrible consequences of her betrayal.

Widely celebrated for her debut novel, Drowning Ruth, Christina Schwarz once again proves herself to be a writer of remarkable depth and range. Like Drowning Ruth, All is Vanity probes into the mysteries of the human heart and uncovers the passions that drive ordinary people to break the rules in pursuit of their own desires.

CHAPTER 1
Margaret

I WAS A PROMISING CHILD. When I was seven, I spent an entire week hunkered down on the cranberry red carpeting in my father's study, building a scale model of the Temple of Athena at Paestum. I carved the columns out of Ivory soap with a paring knife and pushed red clay through my Play-Doh press to tile over the Styrofoam roof. I painted a frieze, which was cheating and ultimately unsatisfactory, since it was not authentically three-dimensional. My father wondered why not the Parthenon, but I wasn't interested in the obvious.

"Everyone knows the Parthenon, Dad," I said, in a superior tone, although, in fact, I knew no one other than he who was at all acquainted with the Greeks.

Three months after I'd finished my temple, my little brother, Warren, was parking his Hot Wheels in it.

When I was eight, I sewed two chamois I swiped from the garage into a little dress in the style of the Lakota Sioux. You'd think this would be less ambitious ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. This quotation by William Dean Howells, an anti-Imperialist writer during the early 20th century and friend of Mark Twain, precedes All Is Vanity: "People are greedy and foolish, and wish to have and to shine, because having and shining are held up to them by civilization as the chief good of life." Do you think Howells’ observation about human psychology is correct? Furthermore, what do you make of the distinction between "people" and "civilization"? Are the structures and contrivance of civilization made by people? Why do you think Schwarz chose to begin with this quote and how did it influence your reading of the novel?
  2. Is Margaret a ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

As funny as it is cruel, the novel sweeps you along on its fast-track slide to hell. While some readers may cavil at a morality play without redemption, others will respect the no-exit spin on ambition and greed.

Booklist - Gillian Engberg

....a wickedly funny satire filled with spot-on details. Margaret's egotism and Letty's frenzied social climbing will leave readers squirming with recognition, as will the 20/20 view of the crowd who lunches on squid ink spaghettini.

Library Journal - Barbara Hoffert

After the painful clarity of her debut, Drowning Ruth, Schwarz tries something completely different and it works.....Poisonous good fun and a little heart-breaking, too; for all public libraries.

Kirkus Reviews

After her compassionate and hugely successful debut (Drowning Ruth, 2000), Schwarz returns with something completely different: A mean-spirited account of how a would-be novelist who can’t write brings down her best friend, a domestic social striver with dreams beyond her means..... Brave in its unforgiving nastiness, if not exactly amusing...

Reader Reviews

Whitney

Fantastic!
I love Christina Schwartz. I first read Drowning Ruth, which was amazing and made me want to read everything the author had written. I was ecstatic when I found this at the library. I felt the begin was a little slow, but picked up about 50pgs ...   Read More

ticeeblue

WOW!!!! I just discovered CS she's sooooooooo great!!!
You need to read this book!

joan tennant

A sparkling, witty and thought-provoking novel. A triumph.

william mccann

'oh how sweet it is to think we have more than we do have or do we'

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