'How are you supposed to cultivate sources like Alec without doing something slightly unethical?” Kate Simon asks herself in Deborah Schoeneman’s first novel, 4% Famous. “Shouldn’t gossip columnists have a more flexible set of rules?” Of course, they do, as we’ve all long suspected and now know for sure thanks to a certain Mr. Stern. Soft corruption runs rampant in Schoeneman’s kaleidoscopic take on the business (more of a lifestyle, really). Rather than telling her roman à clef through the eyes of one virtuous, naïve soul à la Lauren Weisberger, the gossip veteran (and New York contributing editor) presents us with three writers, each with his own perks and muddy motivations for getting into the game. Kate, the rookie at the Examiner, sees this as a way to become an investigative reporter; Tim Mack at Column A is the unbeatable natural with libel issues; and Blake Bradley, the rebellious, coke-addled rich kid at Manhattan (ahem) magazine is just out to burn his Wall Street dad. It adds up to a cautionary but entertaining tale, with more than the usual lessons learned. Epithets like Home-Wrecking Hooker and Plus-Sized Pinup get their own boldface, and neologisms like mattress (that’s “model/actress”) are canonized. It’s like the OED for gossip, a good crib sheet for the next time someone does something scandalous, either as subject or reporter.
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“4% Famous,” Deborah Schoeneman