THE PEOPLE who are profiled in this entertaining book are named Cohen and Bratty, de Souza and Grafstein, Huang and Groussman. Italian names, Jewish names, Chinese and Brazilian. Even the apparently WASP person in the book, Liz Tory, wife of John who general-manages the Thomson empire, and mother of John who general-manages the Progressive Conservative election campaign, is one-quarter Jewish.
All of which seems odd, and probably revolutionary, because The Glitter Girls deals with the wealthy Toronto women who organize the lavish balls that raise hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for the city's medical and cultural institutions. Such women, one would think, ought to be Anglo-Saxon, ought to be members of Timothy Eaton Church and the Granite Club, ought to have names like Eaton and Bassett and, well, Tory. Not so. The world in which Toronto's social elite now moves seems to have become - is this a paradox or what? - entirely multicultural. Next thing we know, New Democratic matrons will be turning up, unchallenged, for tea in the mansions of Rosedale, Forest Hill, and the Bridle Path.
Rosemary Sexton doesn't make much of this radical development. That, by itself, may be a comment on how widespread and unquestioned democracy is among Toronto's upper classes (though one suspects there remains a higher stratum in the city, made up of WASP families with older money, that the "Glitter Girls" - Liz Tory excepted -would never crack). Sexton concentrates on two other aspects of her society ladies: on their organizational skills in putting together the charity balls and on their talents for gossip and backbiting.
The first runs short on interest fairly quickly. Granted, the ladies are awfully adept at concocting events that separate other rich people from their money in the name of worthy causes. But reading about that, about cajoling committees and twisting the arms of corporate donors and allocating seating arrangements at the balls, gets to be too much like ploughing through a particularly fat issue of the Globe's Report on Business.
The gossip is much more fun. The Glitter Girls love to dish the dirt, and there's plenty of lively stuff here on facelifts and lawsuits and who's got the claws out for whom. "She thinks it's because of her appearance that I don't like her," one lady says of another who has a, ah, full figure. "But it's just her personality." Liz Tory - her again - comes across as the woman with the sharpest tongue. In fact, she wins most of the prizes -best tongue, quickest brain, least inhibitions.
Sexton herself is no slouch at handing out zingers. She's careful to balance each piece of malice with a sincerely intended compliment. Still, it's the juicy one-liners that linger. And Sexton has the advantage of dealing from strength. She's clearly intelligent and observant, has a nicely self-deprecating sense of humour. And, oh yes, she has married well. Her husband is Ed Sexton, a gifted courtroom lawyer and a senior man at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt. Bet the Sextons get through some doors that are closed to the Glitter Girls.