Damn! I should have written this book. Or you should have. Anyone could have—all we had to do was study closely the hair-raising profile of Judith Regan published two years ago in Vanity Fair (the one in which Ms. Regan is described as “a destroyer of souls”), and watch again, if only to get the plot points straight, the Meryl Streep version of The Devil Wears Prada. The rest is just typing.
But Bridie Clark got there first, and she didn’t even need to read the VF profile, because she actually worked at ReganBooks for nearly a year (the publishing equivalent of eternal damnation). Unfortunately, she didn’t take enough notes, and hasn’t used her imagination, either. There’s plenty of high-decibel abuse blaring in Because She Can, along with glimpses of the villain’s perversity. (“Sex and violence,” VF insists: “the yin and yang of Regan’s life.”) But no single, startling moment shakes up Ms. Clark’s book; no scene snaps its fingers in your face and makes you feel the sickening blast of psychotic fury. The novel never strays from the narrow patch where chick lit meets urban legends of the boss from hell. It’s as though Ms. Clark were still in shock after her many months in Ms. Regan’s employ: All she can do is go through the motions, clinging tight to the established happy-ending formula of the good-hearted heroine with a confused love life who happens to work for a tyrant.
A few snapshots of Vivian Grant, the diminutive, foul-mouthed virago who’s blitzed the publishing world by producing “tabloid-inspired blockbusters and crass market stuff”: Her authors are teen porn queens and blowhard right-wing pundits—like, say, Jenna Jameson and Rush Limbaugh. (“To be fair,” our good-hearted heroine adds, brandishing a word plucked from her thesaurus, “these high-profile, lowbrow authors obfuscated some of the very intelligent, quality books” published by Grant Books.)
Here’s Vivian slowly warming up: “Grant Books is a tight ship … and you’ve got to climb out of your ivory tower if you want to survive here. You need to get in touch with what people want to read. Why am I the only one who gets that? Why am I the only person with goddamn instincts? All you elitist snobs, you out-of-touch Ivy-Leaguers. You’re so fucking … so fucking anemic, it makes me sick.”
Here she is, simmering nicely, berating an author over the phone: “Let’s get one thing straight, you worthless piece-of-shit hack. I’m not a bitch, I’m the bitch.”
And here she is, downright hot, at the launch party for Blow Job: An Illustrated History of Oral Sex. She’s already imposed her choice of venue (a strip club), and now she’s tricked out in “a tight red lace bodice, a feather boa, fishnets, and black patent-leather thigh-high boots.” She crows: “Is this party the sexiest thing you’ve ever seen, or what? We’re shaking up publishing, baby! We’re doing it!”
Vivian gets a spanking at the end of this novel (the genre demands it), but she still owns her own newly independent publishing house (with the name “Grant Enterprises” plastered on the building, “Trump-style”). She also commands the lingering admiration of our good-hearted heroine: “[Vivian] was beautiful, brilliant. She had everything going for her, really … and yet I’d never encountered anyone who exuded so much misery and anger. And that was the shame of it all. What if a woman as capable as Vivian was also able to treat her employees with some respect and decency? There’d be no stopping her.” What a sweet thought ….
Poor Bridie Clark—events upstaged her. Just as she was about to publish her novel, the Regan saga boiled over: O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It, pulped; the accompanying television interview, cancelled. Then rumors of Rupert Murdoch’s Olympian displeasure; the Jewish cabal tirade; the swift dismantling of ReganBooks. No way to fit that kind of crash-and-burn dénouement into the tidy parameters of a tepid roman à clef. The story begs to be told as opera, with lashings of Sturm und Drang.
Adam Begley is books editor of The Observer.