Marina Rust

updated 05/03/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/03/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

She seems too smoldering to be a serious writer (imagine Iris Murdoch sprawled come-hither on a lion skin rug, as Rust was in the March Vogue) and too smart (Duke University, '87) to be merely decorative. But author Marina Rust, 28, has a well-turned ankle in both camps. Her recent debut novel, Gatherings, captures the stiflingly genteel world of the upper crust, a subject she knows inside and out. As the great-great-granddaughter of Chicago department store magnate Marshall Field, she has hobnobbed at the clan's South Carolina plantation, although she did spend her formative years with her divorced mother in an Oregon commune. (Her dad was a museum curator.) "I was raised wild," she says. "I looked like an unkempt boy." Rebelling as a Connecticut prep schooler, she wore "dresses, crinolines, high heels."

Now the bicoastal Rust (Manhattan and West Hollywood) has found a sartorial and social middle ground. "I wear jeans and a big white shirt for writing, then emerge at night in something simple, black and Calvin," she says. Her veneer doesn't intimidate friends. "You would expect someone with this elegant, icy beauty to be like that on the inside," says novelist pal Bret Easton Ellis. "But she's just very sweet and kind of kooky." She went to the Oscars with boyfriend Matt Palmieri, 33, a film director. "I like independent men who can both surf and read," says Rust. Regarding her own striking countenance, she defers to her heritage. Says she: "I have good genes."

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