Emerald City Summary
by Jennifer Egan

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Emerald City Summary

In New York City, Rory, a photographer’s assistant from Chicago, makes a living by running errands and preparing pictures for a fashion photographer named Vesuvi. He does not hate his job, but working with different models all day, who all seem to have gotten involved in the business by accident, makes Rory keenly aware of the superficiality that permeates the industry. He is also aware of the deceptive appeal that New York City presents to people coming in from the outside. One day after cleaning up the studio, Rory heads out to meet his girlfriend, Stacey. Stacey is a struggling model herself, and Rory can’t bring himself to try to talk with her about the fact that she is failing in her chosen career.

It is clear that Rory loves Stacey very much. He understands her idiosyncrasies, such as her refusal to drink a regular Coke until her weight falls under 120 pounds, and he is enamored by her body. Although he doesn’t tell her, Rory loves to watch Stacey balance on her hands while striking gymnast’s poses in her room. Stacey informs him that she was rejected for another modeling shoot that day because the casting director said that she was not “ugly enough.” Rory is offended by the thought but does not know what to say in the moment, because he does not want to hurt Stacey’s feelings. Instead, the two decide to head into the city to find something to eat.

As they walk down Seventh Avenue, Stacey asks Rory if he feels differently now that he has become successful. Rory, incredulous, maintains that he is not successful at all, and the two make light of the awkwardness of the conversation. They decide to eat at a TriBeCa bistro, which is much too expensive for Rory to afford but which they decide to try anyway. Inside, Rory sees his boss, Vesuvi, sitting with a group of models in the back; Vesuvi promptly waves him over. At the table, Anouschka, a Russian model who works for Vesuvi, stares at Rory intently. Rory has an uncomfortable history with Anouschka, whom he once left standing alone after Anouschka stirred up an awkward conversation with him outside of the studio. Rory has never felt comfortable around her after that, and her presence at the table makes him uneasy.

Anouschka tells the table about her experiences traveling to Japan for a shoot. Vesuvi is incredulous when she claims that she visited a Japanese museum, but Anouschka insists that she went to one and that she can appreciate the importance of Japanese culture as a result. Somewhat flustered at Vesuvi’s dismissal of her, Anouschka turns to Stacey and asks if she has ever been to Japan. When Stacey responds “no,” Anouschka continues to inquire what foreign cities she has modeled in—Paris, London, Munich—all of the obvious cultural centers of Europe. It is clear to Rory that Anouschka is doing this to be vindictive because of her jealousy over Rory and Stacey’s relationship. In this moment of revelation, Rory finds that he hates Anouschka more than he has ever hated anyone.

Finally, having exhausted all possible locations she can think of, Anouschka accusingly asks Stacey, “So, what places have you been?” Stacey sheepishly replies, “I’ve been to New York.” This is a jarring response to the table, because the party is obviously in New York City at that very...

(The entire section is 875 words.)