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Devil in the details, no matter what she's wearing

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When American writer Lauren Weisberger's first novel, The Devil Wears Prada, was released in 2003, it rocketed to the top of bestseller lists.

After all, Weisberger had been assistant to Anna Wintour, editor of the iconic fashion magazine Vogue. Gossip ran wild, and fashionistas around the world grabbed copies to get what they thought was the dish on the most notorious woman in fashion.

Since then, Weisberger has written three other chick-lit novels, all featuring privileged and highly fashionable women chasing true love and happiness. And while the books all made bestseller lists, she hasn't been able to replicate the hype garnered by her first lively roman clef.

Now, in Revenge Wears Prada, Weisberger returns to the characters that made her famous. Sadly, the clich©d and tired premise is shaky at best, and the characters that seemed fun a decade ago are nothing more than entitled, foolish caricatures.

Ten years ago, Andrea (Andy) Sachs ran away from her job as Miranda Priestley's assistant at Runway magazine. To make ends meet, she started freelancing and built her name as a wedding blogger before launching her own magazine, The Plunge. Today, the magazine is "getting nominated for awards, and advertisers were clamouring."

Things have also worked out for her former enemy and co-worker, now best friend, Emily. Very well-married with in-laws living in the Hamptons and a social circle that includes minor Austrian royalty, Emily recruited Andy to start up this magazine.

Emily introduces Andy to Max Harrison, the gorgeous and glamourous publishing scion who decides not only to invest in the magazine, but also to woo and marry Andy.

It all couldn't be more eye-rollingly perfect. But, inevitably, conflict ensues. On her wedding day, Andy discovers a note from Max's mother, imploring him to reconsider. And, unsurprisingly, the note just happens to reference an encounter with a past love Max seemed all-too-happy to see.

Andy wails and moans about Max's possible infidelity but still goes ahead with the wedding. This plot point seems contrived, as Max promises nothing happened, Andy believes him and they soon start a family without really addressing the issue.

The first quarter of the novel is almost one big memory-refreshing flashback, which keeps the plot from advancing at a reasonable pace. Finally (almost 100 pages in), "Miranda Priestly, Satan herself, waving her devil tail and her Prada bag, filled Andy's world once again with painful memories and fresh anxieties."

Through her minions, Miranda offers to buy Andy and Emily's magazine. Instead of standing firm and making her wishes known, Andy delays in taking a stand until it is far too late. It seems that although 10 years have passed, Andy continues to make poor decisions that lead to suffering.

The waffling, over-thinking and apparent lack of backbone make Andy less than endearing. Several other characters act in unexpected ways, highlighting a real lack of consistency in character development on Weisberger's part.

The devil is always in the details, especially for writers. In Revenge Wears Prada, Weisberger fails to create strong characters with believable and realistic motivations, making this novel a slog, even as a summer beach book.

Julie Kentner is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 A1

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