Ms. Levangie uses the fluffily implausible gimmick of couching these stories as the work of a 14-year-old Latina schoolgirl, Perry Gonzalez, who wants to hone her writing skills for the admissions committee at Bennington College. If Perry wants to show Bennington that she can give as good as she gets, her essays accomplish that, too. She is a scholarship student who also tutors her classmates at Mark Frost Academy (sponsored by Wild Pockets Banking Ltd.), a school in the Harvard-Westlake league that boasts a large fountain donated by the Spielberg family. Sharp-eyed Perry is in a voyeur’s paradise.
One of her keener observations is that the offspring of rich, oblivious parents are cherished when they are born, then grow less and less so as they become pesty teenagers. So by the time Perry is hired to tutor them, she’s dealing with monsters. Or at least Ms. Levangie is: Monsters are her favorite species, and this book gives her a chance to invent seven. The first is a brat named Porscha, who has such a crush on a boy band that she becomes the book’s personification of Lust.
Porscha is reasonably content with her life — dyed pink Lhasa apsos, a little brother named L. V. in honor of her mother’s favorite luggage — until her 14th birthday looms. Then she decides to stop breathing unless her parents can get the Judas Brothers to play a concert in her very own backyard. Porscha has read enough to know what fine specimens the Judases are. “Despite their fame (according to Preteen Scream Magazine [online edition]), they are good boys with good grooming habits,” Ms. Levangie writes, “and when they are home in Kentucky, they dig up beets 12 hours a day.”
Wages of sin, anyone? Porscha’s story does not end happily, and, of course, that’s Perry’s point. But some of these fables are funny, while others have a sickly spin and go nowhere. The next one is about Wrath, and it simply conjures an awful, oversized beast named William Wankre (“WANK-ray,” Ms. Levangie specifies) who is hateful and violent. His parents have tried everything from padded self-protection suits to “that collar for dogs that have undergone surgery.” And still, they can do nothing to keep William from flinging objects and insults. When Perry shows up at his house, he tells her to get out, adding, “You smell like taquitos.” William is repellent, and his wrath isn’t illuminating.
Next up: a fat boy who looked like a beach ball when he was a baby and has not improved with age. His purpose is to illustrate Gluttony, but this may be the sin with which Ms. Levangie is least familiar. Women with lips like sofa pillows? Check: She knows that world. A schoolboy who has plastered his bedroom with posters of Sumner Redstone and wants bespoke school uniforms? Also check: He’s just right for the Greed parable. This budding billionaire, Rodney Bartholomew, scares his own grandmother so badly that she says: “I’ve no idea what to do with that boy. He’s going to end up in jail or as Bristol Palin’s running mate.” Or as Bernard Madoff, to whom he writes fan mail.
Ms. Levangie’s stories are so slight that they don’t require, or get, more than perfunctory endings. And only one of them, about Envy, has the potential to be anything more. In that one, Perry meets Ekaterina Schadenfreude, the daughter of a German supermodel, who is enviably beautiful but has been cowed into having absolutely no sense of her own identity. She regularly changes her look and her name just as her mother seems to have taught her to, until she is nobody at all. If the Grimms were alive and reading fashion magazines, they might have come up with something like this.
The last part of “Seven Deadlies” is a disastrous coda. Never mind that it makes no sense. The trouble is that it is belabored padding in a book that could have been pleasingly brief. The galley version of “Seven Deadlies” is nearly 100 pages shorter than the finished book, and a lot of white space makes the difference. But lightness is one of the book’s best attributes. It is quick, amusing and unambitious, just one more entertaining display of Ms. Levangie’s sharp California claws.
Her gift is for satire, not for moral instruction. Not for plotting. Not for reflection. And certainly not for taking herself seriously. She need never think more deeply than this, about love: “I’m sure this feeling happens to everyone, even to whoever married the Rock.”