Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict

by Lisa Kirchner

If, as Andy Warhol said, “buying is much more American than thinking,” then fashion journalist Avis Cardella is one of the most American women you’ll ever meet.

Her memoir Spent chronicles the escalation of her shopping addiction (oniomania, in clinical parlance) from shoplifting Lip Smackers in a Staten Island strip mall as a middle-schooler in the 1970s to five-figure binges at Barneys and Bergdorf’s 20 years later. The barrage of brand names, repeated so often they lose meaning, effectively mimics how for Cardella, it wasn’t about the items at all-her loot often remained untouched, in bags at the bottom of her closet; it was about the high of the buy. Though it’s occasionally hard to muster empathy for her affliction (nods to her “sickening inability to manage her finances” can feel a little woe-is-me), Cardella succeeds overall with her riveting exploration of what happens when a woman gets everything she’s ever wanted, only to find it’s never enough. “How can a woman with a closet so full feel so empty inside?” she asks herself. If the “irrational exuberance” of the 1990s, in which the bulk of the book takes place, seems now as dated as fears of Y2K, Cardella’s message is, of course, current: beware the toxic combination of rampant materialism and credit granted promiscuously. Spent powerfully underscores a lesson we’ve all come to painfully understand-the lure of “more” can be a pretty potent drug.

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