It's my dirty little secret. I am prejudiced
against rich, pretentious people. I'm not proud of it
but I'm not quite ready to let it go. Whenever I travel to
Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, I can feel (and quite
rejoice in) my secret disdain for the nouveau riche
with their multimillion dollar summer "cottages." I
see them in restaurants with their perfect haircuts
($125 on Newbury Street near their winter home in
the Back Bay) and their designer clothes and hate
them, unreasonably so. I've never even known one of
"them." And I've certainly never been of them, which
may account for a wee bit of my contempt.
It is for this reason that I loved the
delicious little book called Lapham Rising by Roger
Rosenblatt. Oh, I have to admit that even I could not
understand all the literary allusions but I understood
in my heart of hearts how the protagonist Harry
March felt when Lapham, a multimillionaire of
questionable taste, decides to build a mansion in the
Hamptons within shouting distance of Harry's little
home on an island.
Rosenblatt is a masterful writer who
obviously knows of whom and what he writes. I
adored his descriptions of Hampton society, the very
people I love to hate. A fine example of this
description occurs when Harry March is talking to his
dog (yes, he's a bit eccentric but fortunately the dog
can talk back) and he describes the towns and the
lifestyle of the Hamptons:
"Basically, they are all the same. The
same shops…the same Sub-Zeros…
the same inlaid tile, the same recessed
lighting, the same photographs of
families at play in the same pickled
frames, the same people wearing the
same outfits, the same prattle, the
same shellacked faces…"
Can't you just feel Harry's disdain (like mine!) , his utter
mortification at even living in the same area as some
of these pretentious people with their utter
I love a book that makes me think hard and requires
that I have a dictionary nearby to look up the words I
don't know. One might question how I would enjoy
not knowing but I do. I think harder when I read a
book like this. I had to look up rugulose,
gastaphetes, cuirasses, and vissoir . The numerous
literary allusions required me to make notes about
books that I haven't read yet and now have to read.
Instead of feeling dumber as you might expect, I feel
much smarter for having read a book in which I
understand a lot but not everything.
Harry March may be feeling defeated as he sees
Lapham's house rising but he will not go down
without a fight. Under tarpulin cover in his yard,
Harry is building a weapon with which he plans to
defeat the House of Lapham.
The entire book describes one day in Harry's life but
his astute observations, his reminiscing about
parties he has attended, his meaningful
conversations with his dog give the reader so much
to think about and so much to gloat over. Those
damn rich folk with their foolish beliefs in their own
importance. Harry baby, I'm right with ya! Down
with the rich! Keep working on your weapon of singular
destruction to destroy Lapham's ever-rising house.
Peopled with eccentrics like the real estate agent,
Kathy Polite (pronounced Po-leet, please and thank
you), who swims in the nude every day, the
Bittermans, party throwers extraordinaire, and
Hector, the talking dog evangelist, this book is filled
with satirical observation.
Harry's plan to destroy Lapham's monstrosity – a
four-floor house with an "atrium, aquarium,
arboretum, auditorium…plaza, piazza, esplanade,
terrace, and gardens; the conservatory, the refectory,
the aviary, apiary, chapel, stables, pantry,
bomshelter" (as well as the air-conditioning system that
cools both the house and the surrounding land) is
masterful — but will it go off without a hitch?
Well, I'll leave it to you to read the book and find out.
If you enjoy satire and have a secret prejudice
against rich people, you may enjoy this book as
much as I did. And remember to keep my dirty little
secret or I'll sentence you to a summer in the
Hamptons attending parties at the Bittermans.