Hell’s bells. OK deep breath now. Imagine if you will, pulling up a chair in front of your Mothers’ best friend and listening as she vents her spleen over every little misdemeanor your darling Mum has committed during the course of their friendship. Hold your tongue as she spills personal details about your Mothers sex life and watch in horror as a hack from the local rag pulls up chair and makes a deal with your Mums treacherous friend, to detail every twist and turn of her life in exchange for a quick buck.
This Housekeepers, is exactly what it is like reading Mariana Pasternaks expose on life as Martha Stewarts’ former best friend in the aftermath of a conviction that could not have been secured without Pasternak’s evidence against her. Though our feelings about Martha might be complex, even when we find her scary or ridiculous, she remains essentially one of our own and we read the merest drop of negativity about her with a nerve-wracked mix of curiosity and glee suffused with dis-loyalty, and the kind of ugly guilt that has us blushing to the tips of our toes. We know we shouldn’t but we can barely help ourselves: because just as we long to see inside our Mother’s head, so too do we ache to know what makes the media and domestic powerhouse that is Martha tick.
What is curious about Martha and Me: The Best of Friends is that though it is utterly absorbing, it ultimately it fails to achieve what it clearly sets out to do: to make us despise Martha for being exactly what she is: a steely business woman who takes no prisoners simply because in an effort to safeguard her company and indeed her privacy she has no choice. We all knew Martha Stewart was no puppy dog (some of even suspected she was a bit of a rottweiler), but we respect her because she sells us a dream and those of us who know what it is to run businesses cannot even begin to imagine the sacrifices she has made to make that possible. And more than that, some of us take the time to remember that behind the tour de force that is Martha there is a women. A woman who despite everything probably never imagined that one of the friends she trusted most would sell her out, in quite such a simpering, yet finally despicable fashion.
Because we don’t do that do we? Even after the worst kind of betrayals we safeguard what was once trusted to us: out of loyalty. Or kindness. Or decency. We may never again speak to she concerned but neither do we speak of her. And that is I think what is so ugly about this book: it trashes what many of us consider sacrosanct: female friendship, and worse than that, it’s author delivers sugar coated venom on page after page, with thinly disguised conceit and a huge helping of bitterness, when her opportunities to abandon the friendship were frequent and probably justified long before she decided to sell her soul to Harper Collins.
And yet, and yet, and yet: I was fascinated. I am almost ashamed to admit that I was utterly enthralled, not by Ms Pasternak’s very average writing and insignificant snipes at her former best friend, but at the insight this book provides into both a monied world we can only begin to imagine, and the personal detail that ultimately serves to prove Martha Stewart to be a more rounded human being than she is ever given credit for. Not just because of her drive and ambition, but because she is genuinely interested in art and culture, history and decoration. Because she is utterly and shamefully foolish over men, often silly and needlessly demanding and occasionally, exceedingly generous, with the kind of attention to detail most of us simply aren’t capable of. And brave! And energetic, enthusiastic and foolhardy and once in a while, plain old demented. Because her brittle exterior belies the essential humanity she clearly denies herself. And because every mistake she makes is played out on the world’s stage and it is she who has to hold her head up and carry on delivering the illusion of perfection none of us need to believe in to believe in Martha Stewart herself.
Do we care that on more than a few occasions Martha flaunted herself at men she deemed worthy of her attention? Not much. Do we find it utterly fascinating that she is always, always up before her staff, already hard at work and trawls galleries, museums and studios worldwide to bring us authoritative detail about that which contributes to making all our lives more beautiful? Absolutely.
And therein lie’s Mariana’s Pasternaks mistake: had she not been so quick to serve up moral judgement about Martha’s personal life, while simultaneously reminding us how much more successful she was with men and time after time, compromising what she declares to be her children’s safety, and her own self-worth in order to continue to grasp at a little of Martha’s magic, fame and fortune by sheer proxy, and had instead played her own part with sorrow and regret as she described with more honesty the life, times and incredible and impressive drive of Martha Stewart, we might have closed the book with a little more sympathy for the woman who ultimately felt that in order to save her own skin, she had to sacrifice Martha’s.
Do I regret reading it? Not a bit. Though much of me regrets having to line Pasternak’s self-serving pockets in order to poke about Martha Stewart’s inner circle for a while, it was a fascinating ride through a world occupied by those willing to throw their closest allies to the dogs in order to secure their own fame and fortune. A world peopled by lonely women sobbing into merino wool blankets, and a world, that in the final analysis, has no winners at all.