As fans of the Brit TV import Absolutely Fabulous can attest, there's almost nothing more satisfying than a good satire of the fashion biz. But Olivia (The First Wives Club) Goldsmith's latest novel about a Brooklyn-raised, Donna Karan-like fashion designer isn't content merely to rag on the rag trade. Instead, she crams her tome with baby-boomer clichés. Karen Kahn, the designer, is a successful career woman who doesn't quite have it all because she can't conceive a baby. Adopted herself, Karen is obsessed both with finding her biological mother and adopting a child with her husband and business manager, Jeffrey Kahn. Jeffrey, for his part, cares far more about selling the business to a megabucks conglomerate than about the baby, Karen's artistic integrity or—is this a surprise?—Karen herself. Throw in that Karen's sister is jealous of her success and that her niece is an aspiring model with an eating disorder, and you have covered the talk show waterfront.
Which wouldn't be so bad if Goldsmith seemed to be having any fun. But in Fashionably Late, even the jokes are tired. "Guilt, Karen figured, was definitely hereditary—you got it from your mother," she writes, recycling a quip that made the rounds years ago. As for original riffs, here's the author's best offer: "I wanted her to be educated," a character remarks, trying to sound New Yorky. "To know all three Mets: the opera, the museum of art and the baseball team." With material like that, Fashionably Late seems simply old hat. (HarperCollins, $24)