“When Life Gives You Lululemons” by Lauren Weisberger
Simon & Schuster 343 pages, $26.99
I liked Lauren Weisberger's “When Life Gives You Lululemons” before I even opened the cover. That's because it's the sequel to “The Devil Wears Prada,” which became the basis for one of the best movies of all time. Plus, “Lululemons” features Emily Charlton, whom fans of the film will remember as the cruel and carbohydrate-challenged assistant played by Emily Blunt.
“Lululemons” picks up where “Prada” left off. Emily has left Runway magazine, moved to Los Angeles and become a more acidic version of herself: chain-smoking, depressed and dissatisfied with her career as a celebrity stylist and image consultant. She knows the Kardashians, Clooneys and Hadids, but when the novel opens at a New Year's Eve pool party, she's at her lowest point. She's also vaguely uneasy about her feckless husband, Miles, who's standing in an infinity pool with a topless girl on his shoulders. Emily gets a phone call summoning her to New York on a publicity emergency for a rapper named Rizzo, and she seizes the chance to go, thinking, “New York, her first and truest love, awaited.”
But Emily ends up visiting her old camp friend Miriam Kagan, a married mother of two in Greenwich, Connecticut. Miriam enlists Emily's help for another Greenwich housewife, a former supermodel named Karolina Hartwell who has been arrested for a DUI. Karolina has been wrongly accused, but her husband is a handsome senator from New York, and the bad publicity jeopardizes his presidential aspirations. He wants to dump Karolina, which will cause her to lose custody of a stepson she adores, a lovely relationship that strikes a sweetly authentic note in this otherwise satirical story.
Emily, Karolina and Miriam join forces, which launches a light, breezy plot with frothy entanglements. Along the way is a road trip to a desert spa, and the rest of the novel reads like “The Real Housewives of Greenwich,” a reality show that doesn't exist, but should. The comparison feels apt to me, and I'm betting to Weisberger, too, since her characters refer to the Bravo franchise often. Emily says, “I feel like we just stepped into an episode of Housewives.” Karolina says, “This is like a bad episode of Housewives.” Later, she adds, “Then we can watch something bad on Bravo.”
Is there anything bad on Bravo?
Not to me.
Emily is our cynical guide through this story, an edgy city girl throwing shade at the ritzy suburbanites. “Making new friends was overrated,” she thinks. “Especially in the suburbs.” Some of her observations of the Greenwich housewives are clever, as when they attend a “sip 'n' see party,” to sip wine and see a newborn, but the baby never makes an appearance, so they just ooh and ahh over a costly cashmere blanket. Emily also overhears well-toned housewives recommending custom-fit lady parts.
So many designer labels fill “Lululemons” that it's like CliffsNotes to the upper class. SoulCycle is simply called “Soul” by these ladies, so get with it. Frette makes the best towels. Matouk are the chic sheets. Candles are uniquely Diptyque. When Emily styles Karolina to be more relatable to the media, the former supermodel gets downgraded from her “Hermès Kelly to a much more accessible Michael Kors tote.”
In no time, Emily, Karolina and Miriam find themselves back at Runway in a meeting with the icy Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep in the “Prada” movie). Fans will enjoy seeing the grand dame again, remembering her airy sign-off, “That's all.” Importantly, underneath the shiny surface, both “Lululemons” and “Prada” are exploring what it's like to be a woman buffeted by conflicting messages about career, relationships and motherhood.
My only quibble with “Lululemons” is that its satire can slip into cruelty. These characters are obsessed with body image, and their frequent references to weight sometimes morph them into mean girls. And a random joke about the rapper Rizzo dressing as a Nazi is cringeworthy.
But those elements can't dampen the humor here. I'm hoping that “When Life Gives You Lululemons” gets made into a movie so it can become my new favorite.
Lisa Scottoline is the author of 39 books, including, most recently, “After Anna.” She wrote this for Washington Post Book World.