Alexis Stewart has made a career of detonating her famous mother Martha’s carefully constructed mythology. On her radio show, Whatever with Alexis and Jennifer, she and co-host Jennifer Koppelman Hutt exchanged banter that would make Howard Stern blush. Their TV show, Whatever, Martha, mocked old episodes of Alexis’s mother’s TV show. (“Oh my God, she’s sandpapering the roasting stick,” Alexis groaned, watching her mother make s’mores.) Now the strafing continues in Whateverland: Learning to Live Here, a wry, anecdotal how-to manual for people who “hate how-to manuals.” Written with Koppelman, the book dispenses practical advice on everything from living an ordered life (make your bed every day: “What are you, still 10?”) to unclogging a toilet without a plunger (fill it with hot water and wait) to “five things to do with your panties on a date.”
The book is also an antidote to the perfect facade served up in Martha Stewart Living. In Alexis’s telling, her childhood was spent alone, playing in dirt in rural Connecticut. There were no “themed” birthday parties or Halloween pumpkin-carving contests at her house. She was lucky if her mother, busy building her catering business, remembered to feed her at all, she writes. She recalls her horror when her mother brought her lederhosen from Switzerland: “You want me to be stoned to death at school?” she asked.
Alexis briskly shoots down her mother’s mythmaking, including a report that she collected linen and lace as a child. But she does share her mother’s advice to marry a rich older man for security and then have the child of a handsome young lover. Ever defiant, she didn’t, instead marrying at New York’s City Hall in 1997 in a grey flannel Ralph Lauren pantsuit. The marriage didn’t last. “I wasn’t a good wife,” Alexis writes.
The 45-year-old denounces the domestic frou-frou championed by her mother (giving chutney as a gift is “ridiculous,” she writes; potpourri “made me sick”; and “I hate holiday food”). She arrives as a Martha reboot, Martha 2.0, a sexually adventurous woman who’s not interested in marriage but passionate about having a comfortable, ordered home. “I cook and I clean and I like to make things; I’m totally into all that stuff,” she told Maclean’s in a telephone interview. “I just talk like a regular human being.”
The insomniac and exercise addict admits to being an obsessive cleaner who hates clutter, revealed by photos of her vast minimalist apartment. She even has rappelled with a harness to clean skylights. She denounces Swiffer (“wasteful and flimsy”), preferring rags and a mop. Wearing rubber gloves is useless, she writes: “you can’t get anything clean.” She has plenty of decor advice (“The only reason to have a stripper pole in your bedroom is if you need something to put the handcuffs around”) and is impatient with people who think nutrition is difficult: “It’s just because you don’t want to know.”
One of the biggest lessons Alexis has learned from her mother is the benefits of tweaking one’s personal mythology for effect. Her story in the book about her suddenly becoming a vegetarian when her mother gleefully served the family lamb for dinner was an exaggeration, she admits, adding: “But truth-telling is not helpful with business all the time, right?”
As for business, there’s clearly a mother-daughter tag team going on. After much-chronicled mother-daughter conflict, Alexis began working with her mother in 2005 on The Apprentice. Her radio and TV shows were launched within Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Alexis quit both programs with the arrival of her daughter, Jude, born to a surrogate, this spring. She’ll keep Jude’s picture out of Martha Stewart branding, she vows: “I did it at gunpoint. I want her to choose.” But that won’t stop her mother from trying: “She’s so proud of her.”
She plans to keep working within the empire: “It’s just a matter of finding a way that I fit in that everybody’s comfortable with,” she says. For now, that role is being her mother’s biggest critic and defender. She’ll say whatever about her mother, she says, but defies anyone else to do the same: “I am, like, fisticuffs, you know, I’m ready.”