We lost a beautiful person when Wendy Wasserstein lost her battle with cancer last year. She was a deeply empathetic and caring soul, with a deep well of love for those she cared about. Her plays were smash hits on broadway, and her collection of essays Shiksa Goddess: (Or How I Spent My Forties) an alternately hilarious and wrenchingly sad legacy, much like the life of its author.
I wanted to love Elements of Style, because I had huge admiration for Wendy Wasserstein. It feels like a betrayal that I didn't, but I attribute a big part of that to the fact I don't get along that well with New York-centered books in general. I don't know the city. It has a culture all its own that doesn't translate to me, though I've lived near another major U.S. city over half my life. Chicago's a city with an identifiable culture, but New York is such a mammoth, pulsing force, with a flavor uniquely its own. And I don't speak the language.
Wasserstein's only novel deals with the city she knew and loved so well, parodying the lives of the super-privileged. Ultimately, she brings it around to a more serious tone, attempting to show the rich are people, too, and tragedy touches them the same as it does the rest of us. Unfortunately, though, the ending fell flat with me, leaving me feeling dissatisfied with the whole.
Wasserstein's incredible empathy really shows best when she's writing about people she's known and loved, and though it's possible some of these characters were based on people she knew, somehow in fiction it fails to make the reader really identify with that. It makes me feel a bit sad to say I didn't enjoy the novel, but aside from a few scattered parts in which her wit sparkled, it underwhelmed me.
I would, though, very highly recommend her Shiksa Goddess. It's a little spooky how that book ultimately reflects the real tragedy in her own life, but at least it shows Wasserstein at her caring, hilarious best. This is a far better legacy to remember her by than her only novel.
She had such huge spirit. She will be missed