Amy Wilentz Reveals Arianna Huffington Et Al

On Friday I went to an old friend’s book party. Amy Wilentz has just published a book about California, I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen. The party was at Victor and Annie Navasky‘s on the West Side.

Wilentz welcomed me as I came through the door. She was wearing a spectacular dress, something closefitting in dark brown with a low neckline and an irregular hem, over dark brown heels. It showed off her beautiful skin and hair. She murmured something about the book being her least favorite of her books, or the least serious, I wasn’t sure, and then later she gave a toast in which she said that in Los Angeles, where she now lives, the parties are consumed by politics, but in New York the parties are all gossip. “So gossip!” she commanded us, and we did.

When I left, I grabbed the book off a table and read half of it on the train home. Wilentz’s two earlier books were very serious. The first was about Haiti and the second, a novel, was about Israel/Palestine. I remember them as sober; this one is actually comic. Wilentz is smart and wellread, so now and then Joan Didion and Nathanael West part the curtain, but the book has an impish quality. Her milieu in the book are the salons of Arianna Huffington and the Resnicks, Huffington’s megarich agricultural/real estate friends, but being an eastcoaster thru and thru, Wilentz feels questionable loyalty to her hosts.

Here’s a bit from a night at Huffington’s:

Everyone at Huffington’s is arrogant in his or her own private way, in his or her own private sphere, and that’s part of the reason they all get along so well…They are also enablers: they enable politicians to be with celebrities, to gain a certain kind of visibility, to meet other celebrities, to be associated and seen with celebrities, to receive the publicity perks of intimacy with celebrity friends, and to get more money from other celebrities.

Amid the playful, moneyed backers at Huffington’s, the hyphenated transcendentalist John-Roger often materializes. The first time I noticed this odd guru, he was sitting amid a harem of eternally smiling women of incalculable age at a Huffington book-launch party. It seemed extraordinary that a woman like Huffington, with a Cambridge education and an exalted status in American society, should need a quackish spiritual adviser. But again, we are back in the land of Twain and of The Wizard of Oz…. If everyone has a spiritual adviser—even Stewart and Lynda Resnick, who are undeniably strict materialists—Huffington too can be relied on to have one, just as she’d have a Kate Spade bag or a Wolf stove or Jimmy Choo shoes…

Perfect. Or there is her encounter with Warren Beatty, who is revealed as garrulous, innocent, narcissistic, and mistrustful. “He’s nervous about Google in a way that reminds me of people who were spied on and victimized by J. Edgar Hoover, the mad, politically motivated head of the FBI, in the 1960s. ‘Anyway, people hate celebrities,’ he says. This is news to me. Why am I reading Angeleno magazine, then?”

From time to time I talk about friends on this site. That’s one of the freedoms of blogging, it’s personal. At the party the other night, there was no one under 40 and very few who weren’t rich and/or very successful. It was the New York version of the Huffington soiree, as it represented our left political/intellectual elite—and would require someone of Wilentz’s wit and detachment to do it justice. That’s what’s so gratifying about her book. It is nice to see someone smart turn over a new leaf in middle age, not take themselves so seriously, but put out something in an antic mode.