“Evelyn” like “EEV-lin” in the UK or “Evelyn” like “EH-vah-lin”, my Mississippi born, plumber’s daughter grandmother? Intentionally or not Stephanie Clifford plays on a class tension among the upwardly mobile in America from the get go through the naming of the protagonist in her novel, Everybody Rise. I never felt on sure footing while reading this book. I was curious about Evelyn and the voyeurism that tempts me with Real Housewives of Everywhere and other reality shows about one percenters kept me reading.
First, a synopsis: It’s 2006. Social media is about to hit big and the economic bubble hasn’t yet burst. At 26, Evelyn Beegan seeks to establish her place among the New England elite, in spite of or because of her social-climbing mother. It seems possible for her to reach her goal, but with each fumble, it seems less probable.
I’d seat Everybody Rise in the emergent category of New Adult Fiction. It’s a world of firsts: first job out of college, first grown-up residence, first marriageable relationship, first major life disappointment to face solo. Most of us make bumble-headed decisions at this time of our lives, and so a state-schooled midwesterner like me can understand a prep-schooled east coaster like Evelyn.
This book is a tragedy of manners and that’s likely why people are so fond of likening Stephanie Clifford to Edith Wharton. I can’t embrace that comparison. Wharton belonged in the society pages. Clifford seems like an interloper. Based on her bio, my guess is she is “in group” enough to know what she’s talking about. She’s equally likely to be seen by the people who live the lifestyle she writes about as an outsider. That may make her even better suited to such commentary.
On a personal note: As an early adopter of social media who managed to swing a job in a career that didn’t even exist when I graduated college, Evelyn’s lazy efforts for People Like Us (a Facebook type network for the wealthy and already connected) affected me more than it would the average reader. I sided with Evelyn on her assessment of the platform’s demographic even as I was turned off by her work ethic. I see this type of disconnect frequently in social marketing. Evelyn’s career direction is at best a subplot, but I related to both sides of that struggle.
Everybody Rise has some legs and I’ll be interested to see how it performs. Reviews thus far are middling. People don’t particularly like Evelyn. I get that. Our desire to identify with and love our main characters is tremendously important, and Evelyn gets less and less relatable as the story progresses. I happen to enjoy sloppy characters, so perhaps my threshold is higher than most.