November 3, 2003 by Lyn Millner
You have to admire someone who persuades strangers to bail her out of shopping debt. That's the story of Karyn Bosnak, who moved to Manhattan in her late 20s, shopped herself $ 20,000 into the hole, then posted her story online and asked for donations. Word of www.savekaryn.com spread virally, and Bosnak received lots of publicity, criticism and support. She took handouts, trimmed expenses, sold stuff on eBay and was debt-free four months later.
Now, she has written Save Karyn: One Shopaholic's Journey to Debt and Back. You want to like it, to find out how she did it, to meet someone
with so much chutzpah.
Meet her you do. Bosnak is self-absorbed. It might be forgivable at that age, but by riding around in her head for 400 pages, you miss a lot. She arrives in New York, for instance, and spots Bergdorf Goodman. "What beautiful window displays they had! Window displays really say a lot about a store, and their displays said 'expensive and cool.'"
You expect something more stirring from a shopaholic, something to justify the obsession, put you on her side.
Bosnak also wastes time on dialogue that does not advance the story. For example, as when she meets her doormen in Manhattan:
"Well, hello, Sam. I'm Karyn."
"What apartment are you moving into today?"
"OK, well, come this way..."
"Hi, I'm Edson," he said, introducing himself.
"This is Miss Karyn," Sam said, "She's here to move into apartment Four-E."
"Osei, this is Miss Karyn," Sam explained. "She is here to move into apartment Four-E."
Early on, you feel like hurling the book across the room, an urge heightened by her liberal use of "anywho" and exclamation points.
Then something odd happens. You start to like her as she makes her way in the big city -- having dating mishaps and working a ridiculous job as a producer for a daytime court show similar to Judge Judy. A bit like Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, Bosnak is nave, honest and shares enough self-deprecating humor to keep you reading. She will endear herself to many guilty female readers by admitting her attachment to costly haircuts, highlights and beauty products. Between chapters, she shares her credit card bills, which
parallel the story's rise and fall. Some episodes (going for a bikini wax) are laugh-out-loud funny, as are her money-saving tips and responses to mean critics.
The book succeeds as entertainment, but its insights are sparse. How did she make the turn from shopaholism to frugality? Through pluck and the kindness of strangers. How will she live life as a shopaholic in recovery? With a book deal and a movie deal. The moral of this story: "Get saved."
At the peak of her debt, Bosnak refuses to ask her parents for help and decides to "get through this on my own." Given that her solution is to panhandle, this self-reliance doesn't ring true.
Readers most tempted to buy the book might be looking to escape their own credit card hell. They'd be better off sending their money to American Express.