June 01, 1992 12:00 PM

by James Brady

The fun thing about romans à clef is trying to figure out which characters are thinly veiled versions of which real people. But smart novelists, like Brady, former publisher of Women’s Wear Daily, know how to throw you off track.

By page 10, for example, you might guess that his protagonist, Bingham (Bingo) Marsh III, mercurial, difficult but wackily brilliant editor of Fashion magazine, is the fictional version of John Fairchild, editor of Women’s Wear Daily. But suddenly Brady introduce the real Fairchild as Marsh’s nemesis/rival.

A scheme to avoid a libel suit? Maybe—but it doesn’t matter. Brady’s depiction of the fashion world—its magazine editors, designers, socialites and general hangers-on—is so accurate, the specific names are irrelevant. Some of them may be miffed at being portrayed as buffoons; the rest of us need only be amused.

Not that Brady’s book is mean spirited—in fact, its tone is one of bemused fascination, thanks to the narrator, John “the Shark” Sharkey, a frustrated reporter for The New York Times who eventually becomes a star columnist for Fashion. While the Shark recognizes all of Marsh’s ridiculousness—his pomposity, pettiness and penchant for malapropism—he loves him nonetheless.

Which is how you might feel about this book. Silly, inside and frivolous, it shouldn’t be stacked anywhere near Literature. Park it instead with the G’s—for Gossip. And Good Read. (Little, Brown, $ 19.95)

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