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Cheerful Money

New Yorker writer Tad Friend on the deleterious effects of growing up WASP.

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If you’ve ever felt a sudden, acute desire to casually drape a Shetland sweater over your shoulders even as you complain – just a bit wearily – that you must head out to join old prep school friends at your inherited summer mansion, then you’ve probably experienced WASP envy. (And to be honest, which of us hasn’t felt its sting at least occasionally? After all, Ralph Lauren has made a fortune marketing to such feelings.)

But for those who yearn, there’s now a remedy. Try picking up Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor by Tad Friend. This memoir about what it was actually like to grow up in the inner circles of decaying White Anglo-Saxon Protestant-dom may cause many readers to gratefully embrace even their suburban tract homes and oddly ethnic last names.

Friend is a New Yorker correspondent and, by his own description, the offspring of “a Wasp compass.” When he graduated from prep school, his grandmother’s method of congratulating him was to tell him that she expected “nothing less due to your marvelous background – Robinson, Pierson, Holton, Friend!” Even then, Friend recalls understanding that, rather than a compliment, this was “a eugenic claim.”

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