The Best of Everything, By Rona Jaffe
The women of Madison Avenue
Sunday 22 May 2011
Each generation of young women gets the fiction it deserves, or perhaps more accurately, needs.
The early Sixties had Mary McCarthy's The Group, the Seventies Marilyn French's The Women's Room, and the Nineties Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City. For the post-war generation of young women, the publication of Rona Jaffe's The Best of Everything in 1958 – a time when they were still being encouraged to stay at home – must have been like a light flashing on. Suddenly, here was a book about them – the Madison Avenue girls, earning their own salaries and renting single apartments.
Jaffe's debut novel is hardly a feminist tome – all her girls are chasing after the perfect husband – but she does show the irresistible lead-up to the calls for women's lib. It's the story of 20-year-old Caroline Bender, who moves from being a temporary secretary at a large New York publisher to the position of reader, then editor, all the while skirting lecherous bosses. The Best of Everything charts just the kind of journey made by the career girl Peggy in television's Mad Men. (Indeed, the cover of this re-issue is badged "As seen on Mad Men".)
Jaffe's characters experience disappointments in love: April has an abortion to save her relationship with rich Dexter; the tragic aspiring actress Gregg has casual sex with the self-absorbed David. Jaffe tells of young women negotiating their brave new world with verve and wit.
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