In 2003, Lauren Weisberger published a thinly veiled account of her tenure as assistant to the editor in chief at Vogue.
In the final chapter, her heroine, Andy Sachs, cashes in on her torturous stint at "Runway" magazine by hawking "every last filmy top, leather pant, spiked boot, and strappy sandal" she had accumulated during her time there. But the proceeds — a whopping $38,000 — don't even begin to measure up to the loot that Weisberger scored for her debut novel, including a six-figure sum for the movie rights (the subsequent film starring Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep grossed over $300 million). Clearly, writing a roman a clef can be much more lucrative than working as an assistant at Conde Nast.
What "The Devil Wears Prada" lacked in writerly polish, it made up for with fascinating characters and a brutally, sometimes hilariously honest look at the fashion publishing industry and its quirks. Andy is back in this sequel, "Revenge Wears Prada," pitted once again against her former boss, Miranda Priestly (based on the immaculately bobbed Vogue editor Anna Wintour).
But unfortunately, this second outing reads less like haute couture and more like Nordstrom Rack. The reader is tempted to assume that Weisberger had dollar signs in her eyes, rather than inspiration, when she wrote it.
(Full disclosure: I spent the summer of 2008 as an editorial intern at Vogue, where I was sent to Starbucks a gazillion times a day but suffered no worse ignominy than being forced to confess to a fashion editor that my dress was purchased at Target.)
"Revenge" is set 10 years later, and Andy is now editor in chief and part-owner of a hit bridal magazine she launched with her former Runway co-worker Emily. There are a number of problems with this setup, one being that Andy apparently managed to survive for a decade in New York City by working as a "contributing editor writing for a wedding blog." But more troublesome is the name of the magazine, The Plunge. Andy describes it as "simple, dramatic, effortless," but it sounds like something one might use to unblock a toilet.
The rest of the plot is flimsier than a Roberto Cavalli blouse, with awkward jumps and long chapters detailing the trials of "having it all."
Andy is engaged to a cartoonish dream man, Max, the scion of a disgraced but blue-blooded publishing family who's attempting to restore its prestige. Alas, every rose has its thorn, and Max brings a new antagonist into Andy's life: his frosty mother, Barbara, who comes from the Lady Catherine de Bourgh school of villainesses, only without the pithy wit. She almost ruins Andy and Max's wedding when she implores her son to marry "a girl from the right family ... who understands our traditions, our way of life."
Andy's Runway days still give her sleepless nights, which she likens more than once to post-traumatic stress disorder, as if the whiff of Miranda Priestly's custom-blended fragrance can be equated to the smell of napalm in the morning.
Anxiety dreams aside, Miranda is pretty much the only thing that makes this book interesting, but she appears just a handful of times and primarily to give Andy something else to complain about.
Lest there were any doubt in the first book that Miranda was based on Wintour, this sequel describes Miranda at a basketball game with Rafael Nadal (an unsubtle reference to Wintour's friendship with Roger Federer) and mentions that she's now the editorial director of the whole of Runway's parent company (Wintour was given the role of Conde Nast artistic director earlier this year).