Alison Lurie, a former Cornell English professor, writes almost exclusively about professors, academics and writers. She is one of those artists whose creative capacity is tied very closely to her reality, or to the version of her reality where she finds the inspiration to write.
Writing about writers is nothing new, and can be done well. Joyce did it to great effect in the age of High literary modernism through his character Stephen Daedalus; in that stage of writing about writers, the main objective, it seems, was to show the writer as the new Priest. The writer was to forge the new myths of the modern age. For Joyce, this had purposeful and ironic consequences, since the world, then as now, perhaps does not need priests old or new.
In Real People, Lurie show the exploits of a group of writers and artist in the summer colony of Ilyria. Gone are the days of Joyce, where writing about writing was to create grand statements about the role of the writer and his or her craft in society.
Real People is more about the process of writing and creating art, and the innumerable obstacles that artists encounter. It is more obsessed by the clash of personalities that about a clash of culture, perhaps because that battle was fought and already won or lost.
Real People is saved from trashiness by Lurie obvious talent. She knows how to parse a moment with explicit and exact language. She engages proses and moves it into place to put a spotlight on her subject matter. And this saves the novel.