The Fame Lunches On Wounded Icons, Money, Sex, the Brontės, and the Importance of Handbags

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2014-09-02
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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A wide-ranging collection of essays by one of America's most perceptive critics of popular and literary culture

From one of America's most insightful and independent-minded critics comes a remarkable new collection of essays, her first in more than fifteen years. Daphne Merkin brings her signature combination of wit, candor, and penetrating intelligence to a wide array of subjects that touch on every aspect of contemporary culture, from the high calling of the literary life to the poignant underside of celebrity to our collective fixation on fame. "Sometimes it seems to me that the private life no longer suffices for many of us," she writes, "that if we are not observed by others doing glamorous things, we might as well not exist."
Merkin's elegant, widely admired profiles go beneath the glossy faēades of neon-lit personalities to consider their vulnerabilities and demons, as well as their enduring hold on us. As her title essay explains, she writes in order "to save myself through saving wounded icons . . . Famous people . . . who required my intervention on their behalf because only I understood the desolation that drove them." Here one will encounter a gallery of complex, unforgettable women—Marilyn Monroe, Courtney Love, Diane Keaton, and Cate Blanchett, among others—as well as such intriguing male figures as Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, Truman Capote, and Richard Burton. Merkin reflects with empathy and discernment on what makes them run—and what makes them stumble.
Drawing upon her many years as a book critic, Merkin also offers reflections on writers as varied as Jean Rhys, W. G. Sebald, John Updike, and Alice Munro. She considers the vexed legacy of feminism after Betty Friedan, Bruno Bettelheim's tarnished reputation as a healer, and the reenvisioning of Freud by the elusive Adam Phillips.
Most of all, though, Merkin is a writer who is not afraid to implicate herself as a participant in our consumerist and overstimulated culture. Whether ruminating upon the subtext of lip gloss, detailing the vicissitudes of a pre–Yom Kippur pedicure, or arguing against our obsession with household pets, Merkin helps makes sense of our collective impulses. From a brazenly honest and deeply empathic observer, The Fame Lunches shines a light on truths we often prefer to keep veiled—and in doing so opens up the conversation for all of us.

Author Biography

Daphne Merkin is a former staff writer for The New Yorker. She has written regularly for Elle, Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, and The New York Times Book Review. Her previous books include Enchantment, a novel, and Dreaming of Hitler, a collection of essays. She lives in New York City.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Travels at My Desk



The Fame Lunches

Platinum Pain (Marilyn Monroe)

Locked in the Playground (Michael Jackson)

Gidget Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Sandra Dee)

The Mystery of Dr. B. (Bruno Bettelheim)

Hunting Diana (Princess Diana)

The Peaceful Pugilist (Mike Tyson)

In Warm Blood (Truman Capote)

Endless Love (Courtney Love)

Days of Brilliant Clarity (Richard Burton)



Against Lip Gloss or, New Notes on Camp

In My Head I’m Always Thin

The Yom Kippur Pedicure

The Unbearable Obsolescence of Girdles

Brace Yourself

Android Beauty



Freud Without Tears (Adam Phillips)

Bloomsbury Becomes Me (Lytton Strachey)

The Loose, Drifting Material of Life (Virginia Woolf)

Moping on the Moors (The Brontë Sisters)

The Lady Vanquished (Jean Rhys)

Last Tango (Anne Carson)

Dust- to- Dustness (W. G. Sebald)

Portrait of the Artist as a Fiasco (Henry Roth)

A Tip of the Hat (John Updike)



When a Bag Is Not Just a Bag

A Fashionable Mind

Our Money, Ourselves

Let the Fur Fly

Marketing Mysticism



An In de pen dent Woman (Liv Ullmann)

Sleeping Alone (Diane Keaton)

What the Camera Sees in Her (Cate Blanchett)

A Thorny Irish Rose (Nuala O’Faolain)

Illuminating the Ordinary (Alice Munro)

That British Dame (Margaret Drabble)

Sister Act (Betty Friedan)



Life on a Dare (Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald)

On Not Learning to Flirt

Glass House (J. D. Salinger and Joyce Maynard)

So Not a Fag Hag

A Matched Pair (Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath)

The Consolations of Thread Count

Can This Divorce Be Saved?

Brilliant Monsters (V. S. Naipaul)

Do I Own You Now?



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