The central characters in Elissa Schappell’s Blueprints for Building Better Girls go through their lives, like most of us, accompanied by an inner narrator.  The inner narrator for Schappell’s characters is more antagonist than friend: it’s the voice of fairy tales, of high school hallway gossip, of what their mother told them was permissible for girls (“Men and horses sweat, ladies perspire”). These women and girls know the roles available to them. They know the postures to adopt, the lines to speak; they know what’s expected of a Southern debutante, or a girl with a bad reputation, or a woman who’s just had a miscarriage.

A woman of undetermined late middle age, impeccably turned out in an elegantly cut dark blue suit, cream colored blouse and pearls, is standing on the stoop of Elissa Schappell’s Brooklyn brownstone. She has swept her graying blond pageboy back into a headband to reveal a profile that suggests somewhere in her lineage, an ancestor whose face appears on a coin.

Although she is smiling, “How charming,” she says as she enters the home Elissa her husband and two children share with another family, she appears a bit unsettled as she removes her kid gloves, as though the borough is as foreign to her as the Congo. There is a moment of hesitation as Elissa invites her to sit on the sofa, as though she fears there might be cat hair on the cushions, but she, of course, does sit, crossing her legs at the ankle. After Elissa has finished pouring the tea, and Mrs. Post has politely accepted a homemade meringue cookie, she hands Elissa a robin’s egg blue box. It is rude for a guest to pay a call without bringing a gift.

Mrs. Emily Post and Elissa have never met before, although Elissa, who has a passion for etiquette books, is most familiar with her work. When Elissa received the telegram from Mrs. Emily Post asking if they might meet in person to discuss something of great importance, she was intrigued. Now, she is most curious about what is in the blue box.