Cover image for A certain age : a novel
A certain age : a novel
Janowitz, Tama.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, 1999.
Physical Description:
317 pages ; 22 cm
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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Library
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When a woman reaches a certain age, the quest for a husband takes on a particular urgency--especially in certain tightly woven social circles.A Certain Ageis a biting and masterful social satire from the bestselling author ofSlaves of New York. Tama Janowitz created a literary sensation with her first book about New York and its slaves, establishing herself as one of the preeminent voices of her generation. Now, she returns with a wickedly funny and glisteningly dark novel that takes as its subject our current obsession with conspicuous consumption--especially in the form of one very misguided young woman, desperate to secure a mate and a certain lifestyle. When Florence Collins sets out on the jitney for a weekend at her friend Natalie's house in the Hamptons, she boards the bus with an air of unspoken expectation, especially when she spots the very wealthy and still available, if somewhat uptight, Charlie Twigall. But the weekend's promise of potential partnering spirals into a disastrous series of mishaps that include an unwanted nighttime visit from Natalie's husband, the near drowning of Natalie's daughter, a bad financial gamble, and the expulsion of one Florence Collins from the premises. Thus begins this tragicomic novel about the sad plight of a woman on the make in Manhattan. Biding her time in a low-paying job at one of the lesser auction houses, Florence spends every cent of her not-so-hard-earned money and what's left of her mother's inheritance on body wraps, designer clothes, custom-mixed makeup and skin emollients, and every other known accessory--all in the vain hope of attracting a rich husband. In prose at once biting and sparkling, Janowitz has created a novel of modern manners with this sly and unforgettable portrait of New York society, as unforgiving today as it was a hundred years ago.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Janowitz returns to New York, the city she loves to revile, after satirizing small-town eccentricity in her last novel, By the Shores of Gitchee Gumee (1996). Here, in this caustic caricature of fashionable Manhattan and the Hamptons, its summer camp, everyone is maniacally materialistic, narcissistic, and cutthroat. And Janowitz has, once again, whipped up a ditsy dame for her hapless protagonist. A beautiful 32-year-old blond with the unhip name of Florence and the personality of a possessed Barbie doll, she is not only clueless around men, she is cruel to women and fatal to children. She dithers around at her low-paying job at a second-tier auction house while roaring through her modest inheritance at an alarming and demented rate. The only solution to her financial woes that she can imagine is the age-old compromise of seducing and marrying a rich man, but she can't even get that right. Florence gets ripped off, drinks too much, smokes crack, and succumbs numbly to forcible sex. She loses her job, her apartment, and the few acquaintances who could tolerate her stupidity, and although such epic failure is plausible and intriguing, Janowitz's intentions remain murky. Her burlesque of greed and what passes today for high society is poisonous, frenetic, and intermittently amusing, but it is also blandly nihilistic. Florence is a bizarre reincarnation of the desperate women of, say, Edith Wharton, who had to marry to survive, but surely things have changed? And surely Janowitz could aim her vituperation at more deserving targets. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

A sordid, contemporary rendition of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, this unflaggingly downbeat comedy of manners charts the cruelties visited upon fashionable Manhattan women seeking husbands and social status before the clock runs out. Like Wharton's Lily Bart, Janowitz's protagonist is, in the words of a society gossip column, "an aging filly about town," whose head spins with fantasies of a fashionable mate, flights on the Concorde, a 15-bedroom apartment furnished with "Biedermeier, French club chairs, Mies van der Rohe." Shedding money from her rapidly dwindling trust fund, Florence Collins blazes a promiscuous, startlingly self-destructive path from the Hampton estate of her all too ephemeral friends, Nathalie and John de Jongh, whose daughter she carelessly allows into the ocean unattended (an event that leads to the child's eventual death from pneumonia) to vacuous Manhattan cocktail parties, art openings and baby showers. Vying for her attention are a circle of men, from investment banker John de Jongh, who forces himself on Florence while his wife sleeps nearby, then persuades her to invest her last $25,000 in a hopeless restaurant venture; the Italian playboy Rafaello, who visits her for quick sex and introduces her to crack cocaine; and Darryl, an earnest lawyer and advocate for the homeless whom she rejects for his lack of funds. What poignancy the novel offers is continuously undercut by the author's arch contempt for virtually every character, particularly the beautiful and insipid figure of Florence herself, and the novel's other protagonist, the city of New York, whose denizens are "in the convulsive, terminal stages of a lengthy disease, the disease of envy whose side effects were despair and self-hatred." At one point, as Florence flips through a profile of a pampered starlet named Ibis in a glossy magazine, Janowitz (The Male Cross-Dresser Support Group) writes, "If Florence had seen Ibis on the street, she would have strangled her quite happily." By the end of this relentlessly cynical tale, readers may feel the same way about Florence. Author tour. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

If you're a woman of a certain age, even body wraps, customized makeup, and Hamptons weekends can't guarantee you a rich husband. Janowitz, an expert on New York's tribal customs, should be in her element here. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



She had an urge to tap his head with a spoon. It might wake him out of his trance. She could visualize the yellowish brains trickling over his glasses frames, such mild yolk--and the other passengers on the jitney to the Hamptons would no doubt quickly whip croissants out of their weekend luggage and come to dip the corners in the soft stuff, hoping to taste so much money. "Florence . . . !" Charlie said. "How are . . . you?" She grabbed the seat next to his. "I would normally . . . drive," he said. "You usually drive to the Hamptons on the weekend?" Florence asked. He nodded. "Only my car is in the garage." "Being fixed," Florence said. Maybe having so much money had made him sluggish, softened his brain, like the last Emperor of China. He seemed to be cocooned in something. He seemed swaddled, a great distance away, though she was right beside him. The traffic chugged forward and died to a halt. The air was gray and thick with exhaust. Here there were no trees, only old factories and warehouses, like rusted shipwrecks jutting from cement. If there was already so much traffic, it would be midnight before the bus got to the Hamptons. "Not . . . exactly," Charlie said. "You see, a few . . . weeks ago, I left it . . . parked in front of that new restaurant, Derek and Trevor's . . ." "And somebody . . . hit it?" Whatever he had was catching. She was speaking slowly too. "No . . . it's a convertible, you see, and the roof was closed. When I got into the car, I thought, Something stinks, and next to me, on the passenger's seat, some idiot had thrown a fish head." "Why would they do such a thing?" "I can only assume . . . because I parked in front of someone's yard, and I know there have been a lot of local complaints in Bridgehampton that Derek and Trevor opened a restaurant there. I threw the fish head onto the sidewalk. Well, it was so warm and sunny I opened the roof . . . and this is sort of . . . complicated . . . however . . . a few days later I noticed . . . there was a terrible smell . . . and I cleaned out the car . . . but the smell didn't go away. And after another week I tried to clean it again. I put the roof up . . . because I was going into the city and--" "Weird," Florence said. "And you really don't think it was some girl or something?" He either didn't like her question or, having begun, couldn't stop before he had finished his story. "And when I put up the roof . . . I found wedged down in the back part where the roof goes when it's open . . . there was another fish head . . . and by now it was crawling with maggots.  And the company can't get the smell out . . . they've replaced the seats, and had it cleaned, but they can't seem to get rid of the smell." "Ugh. How creepy!" She gave his hand a squeeze. It was soft and rubbery, and next to her hand, with its long graceful fingers, his looked like a child's. This seemed somewhat sad, the reverse of one of those children who age prematurely. "You're sure it wasn't someone who knew you?" "Oh, God, I don't know," he said. "This weekend I'm just going to go out and buy another car." Then, changing the subject, he said brightly, "Hey! A friend of mine just gave me a picture he took of me--a portrait. He's a well-known fashion photographer. "I'd love to see," she said. "Yes?" He was cute when he smiled. His whole face cracked open, as if sealed under the layers of skin was a trapped baby allowed out only on special occasions. "The picture's kind of artistic, if you know what I mean--I'm naked." He pronounced both "artistic" and "naked" as if they came with quotation marks around them. He opened a manila envelope and handed the photograph to her. In the picture he was seated nude on a stool, looking as if he might topple off, balanced only by his two skinny legs, spread far apart, feet clinging to the rungs. On his face was an expression of such supreme self-pride that Florence knew it could only be related to the appendage dangling between his legs. The bus was heavily air-conditioned. She reached for a sweater and put it on while she thought of what to say "It's awfully hard to see in this light," she said. She was shocked, which she supposed was the point. He seemed so prissy, then to start flashing naked pictures of himself. Maybe it was a little test, to see how she would respond. She fumbled in her pocketbook for the remains of a Swiss dark chocolate nut bar she had been nibbling throughout the day. "Very nice!" The words came out slightly patronizingly, but he didn't seem to notice. "I thought . . . he did a good job. My friend is very talented, as a photographer . . . I don't know what I'll do with it, though. Frame it, I guess, and hang it in the bedroom." He turned to her and whispered in a confidential voice, "You were right . . . I think it was this girl I was going out with who put the fish heads in my car. She knew I had just gotten a brand-new SAAB convertible." "She must have been heartbroken," Florence said. "That you broke up with her--and that was all she could think of doing, to get revenge. But it wasn't funny! It wasn't very nice!" "No . . ." said Charlie thoughtfully. "You know, I don't think I've ever really spent much time talking to you. This is great, that we're getting a chance to talk." "I think so too," she said, giving his arm, padded beneath a robin's-egg-blue cotton sweater, a quick stroke. Though she appeared aloof, she was an oddly affectionate person--it was as if touch was the only way she could reassure herself that anyone else existed. The cool blond looks were blended in a boyishly jock physicality, more California than New York. The bus held forty or fifty passengers and was completely full. The travelers, with their pinched, ferocious expressions and their too brightly glittering eyes, projected an aura of paranoia mixed with anxiety that permeated the bus. The hostess, a surly overweight young woman in her mid-twenties, stumped up and down the aisle delivering plastic bottles of mineral water and cups; she was probably a local from Long Island, hired for the season. She had the sour expression of a camp counselor devoting herself to a summer's worth of sadistic activities. And yet Florence always felt calmer heading east. The Western migration had not been the right journey for her mother, nor for her. All her life she had felt rootless. But her mother, after marrying, had gotten trapped, preserved in the amber sun of Southern California. She had always encouraged Florence to go back East, to marry rich, to return to spawn like a reintroduced salmon. And though her mother was no longer alive, she had managed, somehow, to imprint this on Florence--or perhaps it went deeper, imprinted on her strands of DNA like a celestial map carved on an ancient Aztec necklace. "Would you like to do something?" Charlie said. "Tomorrow night, maybe?" Excerpted from A Certain Age by Tama Janowitz All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.