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Martha ex-BFF's tell-all may not be a good thing

Author, and friend of Martha Stewart, Marianna Pasternak, at Harper Collins in NYC. 'If [people] take it as a betrayal, that means they haven't read the book.'

Michael Falco/michael falco The Globe and Mail

"It's a very accurate portrait of our friendship [written]with a lot of affection because I still love Martha, the woman who was my friend," Mariana Pasternak says. The 56-year-old is talking about her juicy new tell-all book about her 20-year friendship with Martha Stewart, The Best of Friends: Martha and Me.

Well, she must suffer from Bubble Syndrome - a common affliction among those living in such rarefied spheres of existence that they're oblivious to how ordinary folk might see things. It's one thing to describe the intimate, complex relationship with a BFF, if she's, say, Dolores of New Jersey. It's quite another if she's Martha Stewart of Guruland.

Ms. Pasternak was subpoenaed to testify in the trial of Ms. Stewart over the ImClone stock scandal that started in 2001, providing what turned out to be damaging testimony. Ms. Stewart went to jail. The two haven't spoken since.

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Did Ms. Pasternak let her friend know that she was writing this book, if only out of courtesy? "Well, I would have liked her to call me after the trial," she responds. "I would have liked to hear a sentiment, would have liked to hear some sympathy for what I was put through because she involved me in her mess. She chose not to," Ms. Pasternak says to me on the phone from her publisher's office in New York, her voice rising with emotion. "So, basically, the message is she really doesn't care what I do. … And it is stunning to me that a friend, a former friend, would do that."

Hmmm. A twisted tale of passive-aggression at play here?

The world may know that the Domestic Diva can unleash a temper tantrum as easily as she throws an Easter brunch, complete with hand-painted eggs, but there's stuff only girlfriends know, which those outside the tight circle of their intimacy should never hear.

Much of what's revealed is fascinating. Ms. Stewart loved to take risks, especially in adventure travel. (She had to be dissuaded from climbing Everest.) And she does get up at the crack of dawn to a) call friends to reap, seed and spread gossip and b) plant tulip bulbs.

But most is unflattering, if not downright humiliating. Ms. Stewart, it turns out, was obsessed with finding a rich man after she divorced her husband, Andrew Stewart, in 1989. Ms. Pasternak, a Romanian émigré who married a vascular surgeon, had met Ms. Stewart in the wisteria-thick garden of her home in Westport, Conn., in 1981, just before her first cookbook was published. When Ms. Pasternak's own marriage crumbled, the two single mothers became best buddies as they navigated the choppy waters of being single in midlife.

Ms. Pasternak describes her famous girlfriend in a way that women everywhere can see as the hallmark of prickly female intimacy. "I tried very hard to be non-judgmental," Ms. Pasternak says . That may be so, but because she's the teller, Ms. Pasternak comes off as superior, more inclined to think about sunsets and birds rather than balance sheets and business deals. It's hard not to feel that, when she describes how beautiful Ms. Stewart often looked at parties, she is suggesting that while she looked great, men preferred Ms. Pasternak, which, actually, she goes on to confide.

Ms. Stewart once pursued a man referred to as the Mogul in a decidedly ungraceful manner, Ms. Pasternak informs us in the book. Following an intimate lunch with him, Ms. Stewart convinced Ms. Pasternak to hunt him down after he had stopped taking her calls. "Who knew what a man like the Mogul might do if he found himself pushed just a tad too far by Martha's in-your-face desperation. Harassment. Trespassing. Stalking."

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How nice. And not only that, Ms. Stewart was nastily competitive and possessive. She once demanded that her friend leave a party with her when Richard Meier, the famous architect, was flirting with Ms. Pasternak. Another time, when a mutual friend of theirs, who was a secret lover of Ms. Pasternak, was invited to Ms. Stewart's annual Leo birthday bash, he brought a beaded Judith Leiber evening bag for each of the birthday ladies. Ms. Stewart compared Ms. Pasternak's purse with hers, explaining that she thought hers was better. "I knew what Martha was doing. She was trying to kill my hope," Ms. Pasternak writes.

She also helpfully points out that Ms. Stewart's long (and now ended) relationship with Charles Simonyi, the Microsoft guy, "appeared more like a pact between financially equal moguls. " Gosh, with a friend like this, who needs enemies?

Wasn't she concerned about how these revelations could harm Ms. Stewart?

"I saw the opposite," she states. "I wanted to show … that for all of Martha's much-publicized less-than-stellar traits, she's also very funny, clever, smart and sharp, and yes, vulnerable in the way that we women are vulnerable.

"This is who Martha is," she continues. "But she's also very loving. When you make food for a living, it's a way to show a nurturing aspect, a loving aspect of a personality. I saw that as a strong impulse that Martha had for love, but I saw that she was somehow afraid of showing love the way most of us show it."

Great. Ms. Stewart's heart is best expressed in cupcakes. This, clearly, is not a Good Thing.

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"God gave me no envy," Ms. Pasternak says. "I became friends of Martha and supportive of Martha when she was a caterer in Westport. … What I liked and disliked about Martha, my feelings for Martha, were not changed by her fame. The more famous she got, the more protective I felt for her."

"If [people]take it as betrayal, that means they haven't read the book," she asserts. "Betrayal is the farthest from my heart." Part of her motive was to clear her name. "I was totally misunderstood," she explains. "It was written in the news that I asked Martha for money!"

Is she concerned that people might see the book as her attempt to cash in on her friendship with a famous woman? "I think I deserve to make money off the book because I worked very hard, and also I lost all my business. I lost more than half a million dollars. I lost my house. I am a single mother raising two kids. A lot was done to me. And I did nothing besides loving Martha," she says.

Well, Ms. Stewart will certainly be hoping she held out that olive branch, tied with a perfectly-trimmed bow.

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About the Author
Life columnist

Sarah Hampson is an award-winning journalist whose work started appearing in The Globe and Mail in 1998, when she was invited to write a column. Since 1993, when she began her career in journalism, she had been writing for all of Canada's major magazines, including Toronto Life, Saturday Night (now defunct), Chatelaine, Report on Business and Canadian Art, among others. More


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