10 Discussion Questions
Manhattan on the Rocks
A Comedy of New York Manners
[Note: After more than 200 posts about other authors’ books, I have the right put up one about my own, right? A movie option on this novel would make it easier for me keep posting reviews, so I have to get the word out to those Hollywood high-rollers. And how do I know that you aren’t Steven Spielberg or George Lucas, or Kate Hudson looking for her next starring role? You did get invited to the Vanity Fair Oscars party, didn’t you? Unlike the Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides on One-Minute Book Reviews, this one is just shameless self-promotion … Jan]
Laura Smart has thrived in her job as a writer of quirky stories like “Bowling-Trophy Wives,” an article about the wives of Ohio’s best bowlers, for a Cleveland magazine. But she can’t resist an offer to move to Manhattan and work for a talk-show-host-turned-magazine editor. She hopes her job at Cassandra will improve her troubled romance with an aspiring screenwriter and turn her into “Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s without the foot-long cigarette holder.”
Instead, Laura finds that she must deal with the alpine cost of New York apartments, a flirtatious corporate power broker, and a boss who wants her to track down elusive pop star. She also has to decide whether to break ranks with co-workers who see their cascade of perks from advertisers — free clothes, makeup, trips, and even cars — as fair compensation for their low salaries. The result is a sparkling comedy that sends up the sex-and-celebrity-driven world women’s magazines, written from the insider’s perspective of a former editor of Glamour.
1. Many works of fiction deal with young women who are transformed after moving to New York City. One of the most famous is Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Why do the best of these books have an appeal that lasts for generations?
2. Laura Smart, the heroine of Manhattan on the Rocks, dreams of becoming “Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s without the foot-long cigarette holder.” Does she achieve her dream? What similarities and differences do you see between Laura and Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany’s?
3. If you have read Breakfast at Tiffany’s and seen the movie, you know that the novella is darker than the film. In the book, Holly Golightly is a call girl, a high-priced prostitute. In the movie Audrey Hepburn appears to have no fixed occupation. Why do you think filmmakers made this change? What changes might be necessary in a film of Manhattan on the Rocks?
4. Novels about characters who step outside their usual setting are often called fish-out-of-water novels. These books include some of the most respected novels of the past century, such as Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim (about a naive young man who attends an elite English university). They also include recent fiction such as The Princess Diaries. Why do these books have so much potential for comedy? What pitfalls do authors need to avoid in writing them?
9. Harayda calls Manhattan on the Rocks “a comedy of New York manners.” Some people say that New Yorkers have no manners. Can you write a comedy of manners about a city perceived as “rude”? Why?
5. The catch to many fish-out-of-water novels is that characters who at first appear to be out of their element may turn to be more at home in a new setting than in an old one. Is this true of Laura? Why?
6. Laura leaves Ohio to work for a magazine run by a television personality who hopes “to become the next Oprah or Martha.” Is Manhattan on the Rocks mainly about the cult of personality that surrounds those two stars? Or is it about something different?
7. Olivia Goldsmith, author of The First Wives Club, described Harayda’s first novel, The Accidental Bride as “satire with heart.” Does this description also fit her second? What does Manhattan on the Rocks satirize?
8. Manhattan on the Rocks brings back Brad Newburger, a public relations executive from The Accidental Bride who represents a condom boutique called Condom and Gomorrah. The author also writes about a law firm called Soke and Bilkem (inspired partly by the firm of Dunning, Spongett, and Leach in The Bonfire of the Vanities). She clearly likes to have fun with words. What is the effect this kind of playfulness? Can wordplay be satirical? Your group might want to compare The Accidental Bride and Manhattan on the Rocks to Wendy Holden’s comedies of manners, Bad Heir Day and Farm Fatale.
10. Like Manhattan on the Rocks, the bestseller The Devil Wears Prada involves a young woman who works for a fashion magazine and sees her co-workers receiving perks such as free clothes, makeup, and more. Discuss the different points of view that the authors of the two novels have toward this practice.
“Sophisticated chick lit.”
Pamela Redmond Satran, The New York Times
“Harayda, a former senior editor of Glamour, provides an inside look at the life of a New York magazine through an appealing heroine’s eyes.”
Kristine Huntley, Booklist
“Laura’s voice in this novel is spunky, and Harayda draws on references to both pop culture and literature to give Laura an intelligence that is the most compelling aspect of this novel. As her name indicates, she’s smart.”
Kelly Magee, Ohioana Quarterly
“Harayda teasingly pokes fun at the differences between Cleveland and Manhattan.”
Linda Feagler, Obio Magazine
A “blockbuster… autumn’s hot new book.”
“Manhattan on the Rocks will make readers laugh out loud.”
Vince Brewton, ForeWord Manhattan on the Rocks
Manhattan on the Rocks: A Novel. Sourcebooks, 297 pp., $14, paperback. By Janice Harayda. Published: October 2004. Also by Janice Harayda: The Accidental Bride: A Romantic Comedy (St. Martin’s/Griffin, 1999). Please visit the “For Book Clubs” page of the Web site below for the reading group guide to The Accidental Bride.
Janice Harayda enjoys speaking to reading groups in Manhattan and parts of New Jersey, when her schedule permits, about this novel. She speaks to groups in other places by speakerphone.
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.