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Lauren Weisberger sends a Devil Wears Prada bit player to the suburbs in new novel

Author Lauren Weisberger poses for a photo at the Le Germain Hotel in Toronto on June 13, 2018.

Marta Iwanek/ The Globe and Mail

Lauren Weisberger gets it: Being a decent human is really, really hard work.

“Most of the time you – rightly so – have to be sensitive and conscious and correct,” the American novelist says, “It’s nice to put that aside in a safe space and just go for it.”

For the 41-year-old, that no-judgement-zone is with her sister, Dana.

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“I put on a polite face for the public, but behind the scenes, when she and I are sitting down watching bad TV and drinking wine, we rip everyone on the show apart and talk about how screwed up our family is. That’s our default tone: Vicious, but fun.”

(If you’re wondering what that public face is, by the way? Well, based on how Weisberger appeared when interviewed at a Toronto hotel recently, it’s beautifully polite, a little wry, quietly confident and carries a Goyard tote monogrammed with an L.)

That well-honed ease with rapier-like-takedowns is also part of the reason that Weisberger found the voice of Emily Charlton so easy to channel for her latest book, When Life Gives You Lululemons, out now.

“She has no filter and she says wants, which is fun and easy to write,” Weisberger explains. “You think of the most obnoxious response to any situation and you give it to her.”

Oh, and it might also because she already “knows” this outrageous, infuriating, completely entertaining publicist-to-the-stars quite well. This is after all, that Emily Charlton, the first assistant to Runway magazine’s Miranda Priestly in a little book called The Devil Wears Prada. (It was turned into a movie with Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, but you probably didn’t see it.)

You see, 15 years after her debut novel, loosely based on her own experiences working for Anna Wintour at Vogue, made her a publishing superstar – and the target of some fashion industry backlash – Weisberger is revisiting The Devil Wears Prada. And while the main characters of that particular drama make a fan-appeasing cameo or two, this really is DWP bit player Emily’s story, interwoven with that of two other women who all somehow find themselves living in the Connecticut suburbs … a scenario that “closely mirrors” what happened in Weisberger’s own life.

“I came first to the idea of doing a story on the suburbs,” says Weisberger, who made the move from New York to Connecticut with her husband and children in between writing six other novels and a Devil Wears Prada sequel. “It was this new rich material and this whole new set of people to satirize. I came to Emily afterwards because of all the characters I’ve ever written, she’s the one who would be the perfect narrator to this world.”

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While she’s keen to emphasise that she actually “loves” her town and thinks it’s a great place to raise her kids, Weisberger is also transparent about the fact that what she writes about, while fictional, is not pulled from her imagination, or exaggerated. She’s either lived it, or her girlfriends, also living in affluent bedroom suburbs of places such as Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles, have passed on their own tales of “naughty behaviour.”

The world that Weisberger is referring to is that of well-heeled suburbia, where, as she puts it “people with a lot of time and a lot of money, and when you put those two things together, it’s pretty outrageous what you get.”

Based on the stories in When Life Gives You Lululemons, what you get is: Toddler birthday parties so elaborate they need bouncers; home-shopping parties where the fare is sex toys that cost more than your first car; and in the case of the central narrative, a senator so desperate to marry his lover (but keep that good guy image for the presidential bid) he’d frame his wife for a DUI.

While that particular scenario (unlike many of the other thinly-veiled anecdotes shared by friends that Weisberger included) isn’t based on a true story, it does come out of an anxiety particular to the Range Rover set that Weisberger picked up on: “It was something that seemed to be at the tip of a lot of these women’s tongues, and thinking about it, and worrying about it, and what would happen to their life if they got a DUI, especially with kids in the car. You’d be ostracized, you’d have to sell your house and start over.”

Writing a book about women at her age and stage of life was welcome to Weisberger, who said it was a relief not to have to write about someone “young and single in the city.”

Instead, she got to craft a sort of buddy-comedy-meets-social-satire in which two friends (the aforementioned Emily and ex-lawyer, now stay-at-home-mom Miriam) team up to help their friend Karolina foil her two-timing, two-faced husband’s dastardly plans.

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“I know so many Miriams,” Weisberger says. “She’s an accomplished woman who left a prestigious law firm to spend some time with her kids and now she’s struggling with her identity. I also relate a lot to her overthinking, worrying and overanalyzing.”

Harder to access was Karolina, the former international supermodel. For this, Weisberger says she spent inordinate amounts of time following Gisele Bundchen on social media, although that could be because of her fascination with her husband, Tom Brady, and the couple in general. As for what she speculates they talk about in their private moments, watching TV?

“They’re talking about all the ingredients they can’t eat, what they’re having the chef make the next day, their kids,” she says laughing.

Fun, then, but not as delightfully vicious as Weisberger herself.

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