Primates of Park Avenue

Primates of Park Avenue, by Wednesday Martin, was a hard book for me to read. Martin is a humorous writer and her quirky anthropologic observations of Upper East Side (UES) women amused me. But there’s just something hard for me to stomach about how much these women invest in their appearance and their children, which just seem to an extension of their appearance.

At one point Martin roughly calculated what an average UES women spend yearly on their appearance…$95,000. Which is insane!! These women are highly educated, run charitable organizations, and are married to extremely powerful men and they value how they look more than any work they can do. And the men are ok with this. The worst is that the women don’t seem to be enjoying themselves after spending this much money on themselves.

This novel made me value the people I surround myself with so much more. If I wear the wrong yoga pants, or do the wrong work-out, or really choose to sit around and get fat, no one will judge me as harshly as these women judge each other and themselves. Again, these are highly intelligent women who get lost in their crazy world and just don’t seem happy. Or maybe they are. I really hope they are.

Interesting read.

Read April 2016

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Fly Away Home

I’ve been mostly drawn to horror books lately. Maybe its the weather and the season. But this is the second Jennifer Weiner book I’ve read in the last two months, which must mean something. I think there’s something very personal and inviting in her novels, and Fly Away Home is no exception.

In this novel, the Woodruff family’s three women take turns telling their stories. The matriarch, Sylvie, has been the perfect politician’s wife for the past couple of decades. Her oldest daughter, Diana, has worked her whole life to be the perfect daughter and now is a successful doctor who is married with a son. Lizzie, the youngest, who has not fared as well and comes up short in the perfection department, has recently been released from rehab. With all the perfection in the family working hard for Senator Richard Woodruff, there’s not a lot of time for real emotion and love to be expressed.

It isn’t until Richard’s extramarital affair makes the news, that the perfect family has to struggle with the damage that perfection has caused. Finally free from the restrictions of her life, Sylvie hides at her Connecticut beach house and rediscovers parts of her that have been hidden behind the perfect facade. Diana, who is also having an extramarital affair, realizes that the appearance of a perfect marriage is far from her reality. She played it safe and is now seeking the passion that she missed out on. Lizzie is struggling with her black-sheet stigma and is trying to create a life for herself where she doesn’t have to hide behind her drugs. All three are seeking their true selves and once they start they can begin mending the family bonds that haven’t existed and all have missed.

Again, Weiner’s ability to capture her characters emotions and translate them to paper enchants me. There’s a lot of psychological messes that the characters struggle through so they can begin their lives again. This was an easy book to like and to read. I feel like I really know the characters when I finished. To me, thats a great way to end a book.

Read October 2014.

The Language of Flowers

Flowers and their victorian hidden meaning play a central role in Victoria Jone’s life. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh follows Victoria as she ages out of the foster care system. We see how little the 18 year old is prepared to live on her own after spending a lifetime of moving from foster home to foster home and then care facility to care facility. She’s as prickly as a cactus yet uses beautiful flowers to communicate her hatred of those around her. After finding a florist who trusts her enough to let her work her flower magic, her current life falls into a routine but she is confronted with her past at the flower stalls.

Through flashbacks we learn that once there was hope in her life and she had a chance for a real family with one of her foster moms, Elizabeth. Diffenbaugh only gives us little snippets of the story and dangles her secret past to tempt us to keep reading. The idea of family and forgiveness is central to this story as more than one family is ripped apart by anger, jealousy, and guilt. As Victoria learns that the language of flowers is not definite, we learn the the definition of family is fluid as well.

I don’t want to reveal too much of the story, but there is so much heartbreak and hope in this story. Romantic love, filial love, and mother’s love are all things that Victoria believes are out of her reach. Throughout this beautiful story she learns that she has the chance for hope and love. Its not a standard love story, but love is at the center. Diffenbaugh writes with the characters raw emotions on the page so don’t read this without a tissue handy.

There were some story points that I thought could have been worked through a little more, like Victoria’s birth story and her relationship with the foster system. Both of those really shaped who she is, and I would have liked to see a little more back story or social commentary on how she ended up where she was. Overall though, this was a good story and Victoria refuses to be defined by her past and works to make her future and other girls with her similar upbringing better in a nonconventional way.

Read April 2014

Sisterland

Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel Sisterland explores what happens when 2 people, who are closer than anyone at birth, grow apart and then towards each other again. How can we love someone who represents everything that we hated about ourself and our past? Twins, Daisy and Violet Shramm, were born into a dysfunctional family where their mom holed up everyday until making an entrance at dinnertime, where dinner miraculously appeared through no effort of her own. And a father who didn’t discuss life with his family and never wondered who prepared every dinner that he enjoyed, but battled on loving them for who they are. A life and family that Daisy wanted to leave behind when she went to college, even leaving her carefree name Daisy behind for her solid and trustworthy middle name Kate.

Kate tries to hide from her past, but living in a small city with a twin sister who flamboyantly, psychically goes on air to announce an impending catastrophic earthquake in the St Louis area means that she must confront the things she likes least about herself. The choices she’s made earned her a stable life, but blood is thicker than water and Kate gets wrapped up in the drama Violet unleashes.

Sittenfeld uses the sisters’s decisions and deceptions to drive the plot forcing them to rekindle a closeness that they haven’t felt in years. But this book is more than the bonds of sisters. Its about hiding who we are and life or fate keeps trying to let the truth free. How can we be in an honest relationship if we’re not honest with ourself. The story unfolded seamlessly and I was caught on every work.

Read March 2014.