Hokay so. The House of Mirth! There is no mirth. There is only depression and irritating characters. Wharton tells the tale of Lily Bart, a poor and single woman who is still high on the social ladder because her parents were rich (but eventually lost it all). She's like everyone's pity friend, but they keep her around and give her old dresses and feed her because she's pretty to look at and happily loses at bridge and says nice things. Lily Bart has warm fuzzies for a Mr. Selden, who she can't marry because he's not very rich and she can't live without nice hats, even for love. Lily inadvertently gets herself into a bunch of social scrapes with married men, mostly because she's stupid (or not stupid, Wharton wants you to think she's actually bright and just a victim of her desires- WHICH IS STUPID).
SPOILERS. Eventually, Lily has to get a job, but she's very bad at it because she's too much of a Spesshul Snowflayke for manual labor, and then she gets addicted to sleeping pills and dies. SO.
Wharton's point here is that society creates these helpless women who have no skills and are used to luxury, encourages them to get married, and then when they can't (or won't) get married, leaves them in the cold. So Lily is annoying (and terrible to her only real friend Gerty) because she's useless and silly and shallow and can't make up her mind about what she wants. BUT you're supposed to sympathize with her because SOCIETY made her that way and it's SOCIETY's fault that she dies.
Which is mostly true, but doesn't make spending 350 pages with Lily any less torturous. Well, that's overstating. Mildly irritating. Not fun.
As far as the actual writing goes, I wasn't as impressed as I was with The Age of Innocence. Those are some STRONGLY DRAWN characters. The characters in The House of Mirth (with the exception of the good and nice Gerty) are not well drawn. They all kind of blur together. Half way through the book I still didn't really know who was who (whom?). Everyone has this vague Rich And Snarky And Likes Bridge And Money set of characteristics. ALSO, EDITH, YOU DON'T HAVE TO USE EVERY S.A.T. WORD YOU KNOW. For serious. I did a face-palm every time she used the word "desultory."
Anyway, yeah, I get it. Social criticism except not funny, annoying, vague characters. Nice descriptions, a few insightful passages. Not my favorite.
Two stars out of your mom.