Spoiled by Caitlin Macy

Christina Clarkson

A realistic, and often sardonic look at how being female and upper class creates distorted worldviews.

Spoiled: Stories

Publisher: Random House
Length: 240 pages
Author: Caitlin Macy
Price: $24.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2009-03

In these hard economic times, even wealthy people are experiencing heightened anxiety. Luxury item shoppers are concealing their purchases in brown paper bags, their signs of status turned into self-consciousness. It’s this type of rich guilt, both consciously and unconsciously, that’s present in Spoiled Caitlin Macy’s first short story collection.

Macy’s set of female characters are fundamentally unsettled. They try to be like everyone else, but at the same time they want to be better. This is exemplified in “Christie”. Macy doesn’t tell the story from Christie’s point of view, instead narrating from her friend’s point of view. Through Christie, Macy is able to portray the struggle of moving up in class. For Christie, that struggle began in her affluent hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut, where she was of the minority middle class.

Christie eventually reaches upper class by marrying well—a man with a family castle in Europe. And she doesn’t let the narrator, or anyone else forget it. Since the story is told from a calculated distance, Macy is able to explicitly berate Christie’s lifestyle, one that includes pretentious Christmas cards emblazoned with the family crest. But at the same time, she exposes the narrator’s own insecurities and not surprisingly, the narrator realizes she’s the one whose been trying too hard.

While “Christie” ends predictably enough, it’s still a nuanced look at the delicate female relationship, especially those among the upper class in Manhattan. Macy revels in exposing her characters flaws, which are a product of the close-knit, yet emotionally distant society they exist in. But ultimately her female characters are still likable. That’s because Macy crafts scenes of privileged urban life—gated parks, equestrian competitions, lavish vacations—with skepticism rather than acceptance.

Two stories delve into similar themes: the complicated relationship between a rich woman and her hired help. In “Annabel’s Mother”, Liz is a new stay-at-home mom who meets eight-year-old Annabel and her nanny Marva at their local park. When Liz learns that Annabel’s mother is a corporate executive who doesn’t spend much time with her daughter, and denies raises for Marva, Liz hires Marva herself. But it’s really Liz’s preoccupation with Annabel’s mother, a woman she’s never met, that motives her, and it inevitably leads to disappointment.

In “The Red Coat” Macy’s female character has similar misplaced intentions. Trish is newly married and without a job. She’s reaching for the upper class, and out of boredom hires a housekeeper for her small one-bedroom apartment. Evgenia is an Ukranian immigrant whose straightforward, arrogant manner infuriates Trish. Evgenia wears her red coat proudly despite its torn lining and cheap fabric, and walks through the streets of Manhattan with authority. This infuriates Trish, and eventually leads her to act like a child.

What Macy does so expertly throughout the collection is to continue finding ways to make a well-worn theme—money doesn’t equal happiness—new again. She does this partly by zeroing in on the daily trials of getting noticed in Manhattan, like competing with models for a bartender’s attention or living up to the scrutiny of housewives at the park. These scenes come to represent something much larger, as the sense of peace that comes with being rich is eroded away.

Not all of Macy’s stories are so rooted in class—some give new meaning to the idea of “spoiled”. In “Bad Ghost” Stacey is a successful television writer in Los Angeles who comes to New York for the memorial of a Margery, a successful young adult author who she used to baby-sit for. Stacey babysat Margery’s daughter, Helena, and when she sees Helena for the first time in decades—dressed in cheap clothes, loud—Stacey immediately judges her. Stacey wonders if she could have done something to better Helena’s life. But what Stacey doesn’t realize is that it’s Helena, not Stacey, who has turned out all right.

With these stories Macy isn’t setting out to make a quick read full of “Housewives of New York City”. Instead, Macy creates characters that are more than their zip code, and she lets them come to that realization in startling and unexpected ways. The timelessness of her nuanced characters, well-crafted dialogue, and wit far outweigh the timeliness of the theme.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.