It’s sort of rare that a book comes along that allows the reader to both like and despise the main character but Stephanie Clifford carries it off pretty damn well with Evelyn Beegan in ‘Everybody Rise’. It was a highly enjoyable novel set in a New York that might be more familiar to readers of Edith Wharton than anyone else. A New York of high society and exclusionism before the 2008 financial crisis.
From a new money family Evelyn’s family has plenty of cash but little cache. Hailing from a small Maryland town near Baltimore Evelyn’s mother, Barbara, is the ultimate social climber who ingrained a desire to be a member of the old guard, a desire initially not shared by her daughter who’s job in text book editing has recently given way to a new job securing society’s elite to a website called People Like Us. Evelyn uses her connections to old boarding school chums to propel herself into New York Society. Soon she’s best friends with debutante Camilla Rutherford, choosing pedicures over friendships, and falling deep into debt. But is her new life worth it? And can Evelyn even tell the difference?
I was probably in college when I realized that people were obsessed with the upper echelons on society. Perhaps it’s because I’m unobservant or perhaps it’s because I come from a world where people still have debutante balls [not a deb myself, I assure you]. But, when I paused and looked around at television and many book series I realized that half the character I am confronted with have more money than one person could possibly know what to do with. Then, after 2008 and people identifying the 1%, there was another trend I started noticing; people complaining about stories where the characters were rich. What problems could they possibly have as upper class white people? Valid, though, to me, untrue. True those kinds of stories aren’t going to be the tales of overcoming obstacles in inspiring ways, but… everyone’s got issues (and honestly I think money causes as many problems as it solves, especially when “society” is factored in) and I do think it’s important to know that money doesn’t make you happy.
This book illustrates that. Though it’s not a book about the wealthy getting their comeuppance (though we do know what’s coming for them in ‘08 when the stock market explodes). But it is a story about realizing that position is not what really matters.
Evelyn was a difficult character. I started out liking her. She has the right connections and an ambitious mother, but there’s always something not quite right with her. The wrong dress or pockmarked pearls. She makes 40k at her new job but want to hang out with millionaires. Luckily, she’s good friends with Preston Hacking from boarding school and is able (like Lily Bart before her) to secure an invite to his family camp in the Adirondacks, which puts her in a very good position to meet the people she initially wants to meet for her job. But soon she realizes that her decidedly middle class paycheck and her financier boyfriend aren’t going to get her where she, increasingly, wants to go. And then we begin to hate her.
We follow Evelyn as she attempts to infiltrate a group who live in a world where no outsider will ever be good enough. But what’s different about ‘Everybody Rise’ is that it’s Evelyn’s successes, rather than her failures, that make the reader cringe because with every step Evelyn takes towards being a member of society is a step away from being the person she was at the beginning.