The Best of Everything, Rona Jaffe, Simon & Schuster, 1958, 437 pp
Here is another novel from the 1950s telling us that lots more sex went on than we were led to believe and that what women really want is love and a husband. It is a mildly entertaining story. Set in the office of a publishing company and following the lives of four young women, it has been called the Sex and the City of the 50s.
Rona Jaffe wrote the novel, her first, when she was 24, a recent graduate of Radcliffe, working as an associate editor at Fawcett Publications. The writing is just fine. Her portrayal of young women working at a publishing company comes across as realistic and includes a lecherous, alcoholic chief editor; a female associate editor who resembles that terror in The Devil Wears Prada; and the typing pool of women where all the drama plays out.
Sadly, not that much has changed for women in the past sixty years except that more is out in the open. Judging from the current fiction I read (I don't watch TV), American women still want love, marriage, a house to decorate and supervise, and children if they can get pregnant. Some women also want a career, a professional life, personal fulfillment outside the family.
The facts are that most people need to work for a living and that men usually must have a job but often don't find personal fulfillment in their work, another subject often addressed in 1950s fiction. Still, we all love our dreams, our hopes, and we read the books that allow us to step outside the humdrum of "real life." Some of the books are especially for women, some are for men and some satisfy both. The Best of Everything is clearly a woman's book and if I had read it in my twenties I would have been fascinated.
The above paragraph, while not profound, was my conclusion after finishing the book. Out of the four women, two achieve a semblance of the dream but all are damaged to a degree by their efforts to get there. The problem with this sort of fiction is that it all boils down to a common denominator, which I suppose has much to do with its popularity. Are we just inherently shallow?
There were no true heroes or heroines in Rona Jaffe's book. She went on to write romantic fiction for years, having several bestsellers. I hope she had fun. Oh yes, and there was also a movie. Has anyone seen it?
(The Best of Everything is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)