By Kristi Lanier
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
THE EX-MRS. HEDGEFUND
By Jill Kargman | Dutton. 290 pp. $25.95
HEDGE FUND WIVES
By Tatiana Boncompagni
Avon. 284 pp. | Paperback, $13.99
Retirement accounts have shriveled, and the economy has been reduced to a dirty word, but the Wall Street playboys who caused this mess are getting their comeuppance. And that's comforting -- even if it's fiction. Two new novels, from Jill Kargman and Tatiana Boncompagni, make a saucy accounting of one class of villains: the hedge-fund elite. As portrayed here, these wizards of moneymaking are so comically out of touch that they'll pay millions for a formaldehyde-injected sheep because someone said it was art. But both stories circle primarily around the hedge-fund wives, a rare breed that inhabits Bergdorf's, feeds on gossip and outsources its young to surrogates and staff. And at the center of each novel is a reluctant "hedgie" wife who doesn't totally buy into the Botox.
In Kargman's "The Ex-Mrs. Hedgefund," Holly Talbott would rather wear sweats than sweater sets; she prefers watching "Law & Order" to attending another museum benefit. Still, she's content enough in her hedge-fund circle, raising her surprisingly unspoiled son and serving on charity boards. But when her husband comes down with an incurable case of wandering eye, Holly's comfortable life crashes. "My little dreamy family cocoon had cracked," she says. "And it wasn't a beautiful, vibrant-hued butterfly that flew out." Although the other wives freeze her out and her charities politely dethrone her, Holly isn't left to cry into her caviar. Her delightfully foul-mouthed sister-in-law props her up, makes her over and steers her toward self-respect. Kargman's plot-turns are a little too convenient, and it's hard to muster much empathy for a heroine whose financial humiliations include having her account at the gourmet grocery closed. But it's satisfying to know at book's end exactly who's good, who's bad and that right always wins.
Boncompagni offers up a similar plot in "Hedge Fund Wives." Marcy Emerson is plucked from an ordinary life in Chicago when her boy-wonder husband is hired by a group of New York financiers. While warming quickly to the financial perks of her new life, Marcy resists the social strictures, leading to such missteps as getting liquored up and offing her underwear in public. "Even last night, wearing a new designer dress and multiple coats of a new mascara the woman behind the cosmetics counter swore was what all the movie stars use, I still felt like a prairie girl among princesses," Marcy complains. Her husband, however, is hypnotized by status and social-climbs himself into another woman's bed. So Marcy, too, must find her way alone. But not without first publicly removing her undergarments again.
A real-life New York socialite, Boncompagni knows her subject intimately. She can slip readers into a pair of high-heel Christian Louboutins and through the doors of a hedgie home themed in Chinese antiquities. Seeing how the moneyed set lives offers a funny -- and sometimes sobering -- look at people hogtied by their own wealth.
Boncompagni's book is more gracefully written and less predictable than Kargman's, but both novels are filled with enough catty backbiting, infidelity, manipulating and spicy dialogue to keep the pages turning. And both books are unexpectedly educational, too. You'll learn a lifetime's worth of unsavory synonyms for "gold digger" and "home-wrecking harlot."
Lanier is a freelance writer in Seattle.