My top recommendations for summer 2016 reading will include Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam. The story doesn’t seem to go anywhere, but neither does life when you are just getting traction as an independent new adult. In a book with few exciting plot occurrences, it’s Alam’s turn of phrase and believable characters that make this book so enjoyable. Additionally, the affirmation of friendship between people who dream of a relationship going one way and adapting when it doesn’t makes for the best message I’ve read in fiction lately.
Alam captures the things that are important to new adults with wit and insight. Discussing trendy restaurants he writes, “Something ampersand something? That place is pretty good.” Describing people he writes, “Fiona somehow looks English, which she is.” The busy schedule of new adulthood unfolds, “She’s accomplished a lot: meeting with Carol, lunch with Fiona, picking up some sweaters, and now, stopping to see her mom.” Don’t worry. This review isn’t like a movie trailer where all the good stuff is given away. Alam packs his novel with cleverisms.
Having grown up with a romanticized view of “traditional” families, I identify with “rich” Sarah, the daughter of a former Latina pop star and a conservative policy maker. Sarah enjoys her lists and feels lighter, smarter and in control with she takes stock of her to do-s and done-s. Sarah finds comfort in maintaining relationships, especially the one she has with Lauren.
I also identify with “pretty” Lauren, the scholarship kid who appreciates “the indulgence of faded luxury.” She looks to a long career but transient romance. As she comes into her own, she cares less about the details that were important to her younger self. These things include, but aren’t limited to subway tiles, oyster specials and perceived slights. The only relationship Lauren devotes herself to for the long haul is the one she has with Sarah.
Alam gets major props for understanding a feminine experience, though I have one teeny complaint. At one point he writes, “Lauren knows what women are like. She is one.” I am one too, and I don’t claim to know what they are like. In point of fact, Alam writes about two unalike women who somehow manage what feels like a life-long relationship. Their story is touching and unique to them. Alam also throws in a less touching but still appreciated reference to mayonnaise cake, so props for that too.
[Note: This review is based on an Advance Reader’s Edition from Uncorrected Proofs.]