On my way into S'nice, a vegan bakery in Park Slope to meet ELLE writer, novelist and super chic city chick, Nora Zelevansky, Debi Mazar is exiting with her kids. I think what a perf star sighting -- this quintessential New York-turned LA babe-- to kick off my interview with Nora Zelevansky, New York native and author of Semi-Charmed Life, who's fresh off her LA book tour. First off, I love the title of Zelevansky's debut novel, as it speaks to something I think I lead, and something most New York/Los Angeles women in their teens, 20s (and even 30s can relate to). To me, the term connotes a lifestyle that is marked by a series of glamorous disasters. It also speaks to a kind of self-importance or entitlement that marks our generation. Even if we don't have evil or narcissistic intentions, it's hard not to be self-obsessed in this "cult of celebrity," that defines our society these days. With the constant status updates, the notion of having "followers," and collecting "likes," not to mention the easy infiltration into the privacy of celebrities' lives, it's no wonder the "everyday" person can feel an illusory sense of social relevance. This, essentially, is the satire that marks Zelevansky's novel. The author agrees with me. "These days, everybody's a celebrity -- you're in the minority if you're not." Semi- Charmed Life, which has been lauded as a comedic satire and cultural critique by critics in both the upmarket literary fiction and the super popular YA genre.
When I ask Zelevanksy if her novel is a YA book, she says it could be, "But really, it fits into a lot of categories. It is a coming-of-age book, so in that way, yes. It's also literary fiction, comedic satire, a mystery and a love story." In the novel, Beatrice Bernstein, an Upper West Side ingenue takes on the job of ghostwriting a socialite's blog. Beatrice, who, like Zelevansky, grew up in an artsy family on the Upper West Side -- here, Zelevansky pauses to add that unlike the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side has "more soul" -- is a bit of a naif. Beatrice is swept up into the seductive world of parties, romance, and glitz that comes along with her new job, and social circle. Goodreads praises Zelevansky's artful depiction of Beatrice's identity crisis in the city that's too hopped up on ego to ever sleep." With her own magical touch, Zelevansky deftly explores the world of rarified Manhattan in this sparkling modern fairy tale of first love, finding one’s voice and growing up." In this way, Semi-Charmed Life also fits the "New Adult" genre -- one that categorizes books that appeal to both teens and adults. Zelevansky explains, "Someone having a hard time in the world is something that comes into play majorly in your 20s, but also resurfaces over and over again throughout your life. The book raises a lot of questions like family dynamics, morality, female friendships, and finding oneself." So, although Semi-Charmed Life may have similar glamorous and dark undertones as Gossip Girl, don't expect Blake Lively to be starring in a TV adaptation of the novel any time soon.
"The novel is perfect for book clubs," says Zelevanksy, "Especially because it brings up Girl Code and makes a statement on the value of friendship. You can take your friendships for granted when you're younger, but they're so important to your happiness."
As for enjoying her own success as a debut novelist, Zelevanksy couldn't be happier. "I walked into BookCourt two days before I was to read there, and the people who work there ushered me over to my book. Although this is something every writer dreams of seeing one day, I told myself I wasn't going to react. But when I saw the books on the shelf, I started crying, then quickly excused myself. It's not that often in life when you feel proud of yourself. In that moment, I was profoundly proud."
And deservedly so! The book is fabulous -- characters intriguing and quirky; the writing witty, fresh, and taut. But don't take my word for it; come to Zelevansky's final Manhattan reading this Tuesday, October 2, at 6 PM at the Lexicon Lounge. For more info on this event check out the Facebook invite.
Be sure to visit The Pocket Lint, Nora Zelavansky's blog on "unexpected gems for quirky food, beauty, travel, and style-obsessed explorers."
Here at Beautiful Garbage, we love coming-of-age New York novels about quirky, artsy chicks! Thanks for sharing yours, Nora! xo