December 01, 2010

BOOKS: Metropolitan Life, Fran Lebowitz (1978)

When HBO started running a documentary on Fran Lebowitz last month, I was reminded that I'd still never gotten around to reading her. So I grabbed this from the library to see what all the fuss was about. (Didn't watch the documentary. I find that I almost never care about a writer's life; it's their writing that holds my interest.)

The book's a mixed bag for me. It's a collection of short essays -- rarely more than 5-6 pages long, and most shorter than that -- about various aspects of New York living. The Lebowitz persona is that of a woman who desperately wants to be Oscar Wilde and longs for a world in which a gift for sparkling conversation and devastating epigrams is sufficient to keep one supplied with cigarettes and cocktails.

And there certainly are some magnificent sentences to be found here, precisely calibrated, impeccably crafted little jolts of observation and sharp wit. A few examples:
All God's children are not beautiful. Most of God's children are, in fact, barely presentable.

If your sexual fantasies were truly of interest to others, they would no longer be fantasies.

If you are of the opinion that the contemplation of suicide is sufficient evident of a poetic nature, do not forget that actions speak louder than words.

(In a piece on the pros and cons of chidren) Children are usually small in stature, which makes them quite useful for getting at those hard-to-reach places.
And occasionally, she'll even get off a great paragraph:
12:35 PM -- The phone rings. I am not amused. This is not my favorite way to wake up. My favorite way to wake up is to have a certain French movie star whisper to me softly at two-thirty in the afternoon that if I want to get to Sweden in time to pick up my Nobel Prize for Literature I had better ring for breakfast. This occurs rather less often than one might wish.
But over the course of a full essay, and certainly over the course of the book, the carefully cultivated sardonic disenchantment does grow tiresome (and I speak with full awareness that c.c.s.d. is a mode with which I have more than a nodding acquaintance). Lebowitz is best read in very small doses, I think, and these pieces probably made a better impression in their original form as magazine features.

Will I pick up her other book? Perhaps, but not for a few months, at least, and with the awareness that I'll mostly be browsing through it in search of those few perfect sentences.

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