'Lily' author dishes high society style

  • Article by: SARA GLASSMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 8, 2008 - 4:54 PM

Watch out Gossip Girl, there's another source about the scandalous lives of Manhattan's elite -- and Tatiana Boncompagni has Minnesota roots.

Tatiana Boncompagni lives an adult version of the television show "Gossip Girl."

The Minnesota native writes about style and beauty for the New York Times and Financial Times. As the wife of a man with a prominent name -- Maximilian Hoover, whose family started the vacuum-cleaner empire -- she also travels in social circles with Manhattan's elite. Society-page regular Tinsley Mortimer, once an interview subject, is now a friend.

Boncompagni attended Edina High School. She left home in 1995 and went on to graduate magna cum laude from Georgetown University, beginning her writing career with the Wall Street Journal.

The title protagonist in Boncompagni's first novel, "Gilding Lily," has a lot in common with her creator. Lily marries into a rich NewYork family and struggles to fit into that world while also enjoying its benefits. For Boncompagni's book tour, designers such as Elie Tahari and Diane von Furstenberg sent dresses. Vogue threw a Fashion Week book party hosted by Mortimer and actress Emmy Rossum. Even Carrie Bradshaw would have had a smidge of author envy.

Boncompagni, who bears a striking resemblance to actress Bridget Moynahan, invited us to her Upper East Side (and not ostentatious) apartment to reminisce about her years in Edina.

Q What were you like in high school?

A I was kind of a geek. There's a lot of wealth in the community, and the girls were so sophisticated. I used to eat lunch in the library, I didn't have a boyfriend and I was really academically minded. Now I look back and wonder, "Why didn't you loosen up?" I watch those "Gossip Girl" shows just because I didn't get that high school experience and I still feel a little shortchanged.

Q Any positive points?

A I got an amazing education. I had a lit teacher -- Mrs. [Elizabeth] Cussler. She had this incredible way of understanding the American condition through literature. At the time, my parents were having issues. Through literature, I found this escape and this way of contextualizing what I was going through and understanding it through the characters. I've taken that with me through everything I've done -- seeing the beauty in the tragedies.

Q Did you know you were going to be a writer?

A I thought I was going to be an international lawyer. But I should have known because I was the first person in my school to win a Federal Reserve essay contest. They announced my name in a pep rally and everyone clapped, even though it was geeky to win an econ contest.

Q What else did you do in high school?

A I was an editor of Edina High's literary magazine, Images. We read hundreds of submissions. I wrote poems and short stories and they were all rejected. I want to go back to all of those people and be like, "Hey, who's published now?"

Q How did growing up in Minnesota inform the book?

A I grew up with that Thorstein Veblen perception of wealth and also the very F. Scott Fitzgerald notion that the wealthy are not like you or me. I'm fascinated with wealth and how it changes and drives people. "Gilding Lily" is a lot about status and the pursuit of status but it's also about how wealth can tear a couple apart.

Q And you?

A I will always view New York through the eyes of a Midwesterner. To me, this is all nuts -- from the status to the amount of money that gets thrown around to the gossip pages. It's like living in a fishbowl. People are in your business and don't give you the benefit of the doubt. With my book, I try to work out the fact that I am, I hope, a nice person living in a very cutthroat world. Everyone says to me, "Tati, you're too thin-skinned, you're too naïve, you can't care as much as you do" -- and I think because I'm a Minnesotan, I'm just used to people being nice, doing what they say they'll do and not betraying you.

Q Regarding your main character, Lily: Does life imitate art?

A Some girls know me as Max Hoover's wife. Others will be like, "She's not really a socialite; she's a reporter." Some of these socialites look down on reporters. The first time that happened, it hurt my feelings. But when it happened again, it was OK. You learn to live with the fact that everyone is going to perceive you the way they want to.

Q And you're friends with Tinsley Mortimer, one of the most notorious young socialites in Manhattan?

A Sometimes people are hard on her, but I think she's as popular as she is and has gotten to where she's gotten because she's truly nice and genuine. That said, there are some really, really horrible girls out there ... diabolically evil.

We expect to see some of them in Boncompagni's next book. "Hedge Fund Wives" comes out in the spring.

Sara Glassman • 612-673-7177

  • GILDING LILY

    (Avon, $13.95)

    Author: Tatiana Boncompagni

    Website: www.bon compagni. net

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