In this modern-day retelling of the classic My Fair Lady, Bridie Clark makes poor Lucy Jo, a sweet yet clumsy young lady from Minnesota, jump through all the hoops that Wyatt Hayes IV (a brilliant yet bored anthropologist and, as the “IV” in his name might have clued you in on, whose family is insanely rich) deems necessary for her to jump through to become a socialite.
Like so many others before her, Lucy Jo’s dream is to become a designer. And so she moves to Manhattan where she finds a job on a Garment District assembly line. After a particularly disastrous evening, which was supposed to be Lucy Jo’s first foray into the high-end fashion industry but ends up being her ultimate humiliation, she finds herself without a job. To make matters worse, the subway is down and in the mad rush to find a taxi, Lucy Jo’s honest attempts are foiled by the underhanded techniques of the rich to steal her hard-earned cab rides.
And so when Wyatt and his friend Trip seek shelter under the same bus shelter as her, she is more than insulted at Wyatt’s offer to take part in his experiment. But she soon hits rock bottom and decides to take him up on his offer.
As far as Lucy Jo knows, her three-month transformation, which is to culminate in her attending the Fashion Forum Gala, is the result of a bet between two rich and bored young men. However, Wyatt has much more than a mere bet riding on Lucy Jo’s success; unbeknown to her, he has signed a publishing deal with Harvard University to write a book about this social experiment.
At first, Wyatt isn’t bothered by the deal, as, in his mind, both he and Lucy Jo will be getting the boost their respective careers need: him, a book that is bound to appeal to both the general public and academic circles, and she, a much-needed foot into the door of the fashion world, by meeting the many contacts in Wyatt’s network of acquaintances.
However, as one can expect, Wyatt and Lucy Jo start developing deeper feelings one for the other, which (needless to say) complicate things. Lucy Jo’s unexpected close friendship with Trip’s longtime girlfriend Eloise also complicates matters, as does her mother Rita’s discovering Lucy Jo’s sudden good fortune, which she wishes to tap into. But all of these complications would be nothing without that of Wyatt’s ex-girlfriend, Cornelia Rockman, New York’s reigning socialite, whose superficiality is what initially inspired Wyatt to want to run his ‘study’ in the first place.
The Overnight Socialite is a great read, but also a bit of a disappointment, as Lucy Jo’s transformation is only covered in the most perfunctory fashion. The opportunity for the exploration of the social processes at work in creating a world where people are famous for just being seen wasn’t well taken advantage of, as the clashes between Lucy Jo and Wyatt are kept at the level of bumbling student and perfectionist teacher.
Had the psyche of the characters been examined a little more thoroughly – how her determination is helping her get over her humiliation, how she feels about Wyatt throughout the various stages of the transformation, how Wyatt’s perception of Lucy – as a project, then as a friend, then as more – crept up on him, this book would been a more enjoyable read. It would also have been a better examination of the social criticism that the author barely touches upon but is of the utmost importance: today’s rabid, raving celebrity obsessed culture, in which being a socialite becomes a self-serving career rather than an opportunity to carry on philanthropic work.
If you are looking for a relaxing, well-written chick flick, The Overnight Socialite will answer your needs. And although the topics are not explored in depth, a book club can easily host lively discussions on the superficiality of the celebrity-obessions that currently imbibes many levels of our society. And for those of you who just want to read the story of a young woman defying the odds and making it, The Overnight Socialite is definitely for you.
First published here on Blogcritics.
First published on Sahar’s Blog on 7 June 2013.