Are You a Wife in the Fast Lane?
Now I know that Mommy Track’d has a mommy lit section on its bookshelf. I know, too, that the management of Mommy Track’d happens to harbor a weakness for chick lit. But as the site’s resident reviewer, I’ve pledged to be honest. So let me be blunt. I detest chick lit and its monster offspsring, mommy lit. Now I’m as willing to indulge in guilty pleasures of the frivolous literary sort as anyone, but most of what fits the chick lit mold is just too slight and demeaning to the smart women who are supposed to be its most avid consumers. The sloppy writing, silly plots and skimpy characterizations are insulting. But. These books get a huge amount of attention. Publishers finagle prime bookstore placement for them. They decorate them in snazzy, attention-getting covers. So they sell, despite the fact that I may sneer and walk quickly by them.
|On the other hand, I’m pleased when a mother transitions from an unsatisfactory corporate career
to a more congenial life as a writer. That’s what happened to Karen Quinn. Downsized from her job as VP at American Express, she started a business, Smart City Kids, helping families get their kids into New York’s elite private schools. Though she garnered lots of clients and an equal amount of media attention, she eventually sold the business to her partner and took time off to write her first novel, The Ivy Chronicles, about – surprise – a mother of two, downsized from her high powered Wall Street job and cheated on by her husband, who reinvents herself by starting a company helping affluent families with private school admissions.
Ivy is forced to move with her two daughters from the comfortable Upper East Side to the Lower, as she struggles to make her new business work. Mocking the cruelties of the competitive corporate culture at the same time that it skewers the shallow world of competitive child-rearing, the novel is frequently amusing, but as a working mother’s quest to reinvent herself it rings hollow. Quinn’s narrative technique is to exaggerate characters and situations to make a point. That makes it easy for readers to sneer at the pretensions of parents willing to use their very small children to buttress their own positions. But the book isn’t quite a satire, either, and so we’re left with forgettable people, cartoony plot points, and an absurdly romantic ending.
Though I didn’t love her first book, how could I resist a heroine successful and smart enough and curious enough to want to attend discussions of currency flows and international markets when she’s invited to Davos for the World Economic Forum? That’s former Olympic champion Christy Hayes, the star of Quinn’s latest novel, Wife in the Fast Lane, who has parlayed her athletic stardom into a wildly successful athletic shoe company, Baby G. After years of putting all her energy into her company, leaving no time for a romantic life, Christy meets and marries a determinedly childless media mogul. They are the loves of one another’s lives, moneyed, powerful, free. Christy has easily agreed to Michael’s condition that they have no children (he has been alienated from his only daughter by his vicious ex-wife) until, several months into their blissful union, Christy’s beloved housekeeper dies, leaving Christy to raise her 11year old granddaughter, Renata. Michael will have nothing to do with young Renata’s life, pushing Christy into a dilemma familiar to many women who have faced the conflicting claims of loved ones. But that’s not all that’s going on in Christy’s now-confused life. Her business partner, whom we’re set up to suspect from very early in the novel, betrays her, pushing Christy out as CEO of the company she’s birthed and nourished, and she faces the constant disapproval and contempt of the stay-at-home mothers and head of the PTA at the elegant private school she’s selected for Renata.
All of these, plus a few other wrinkles (a newspaper reporter is after Michael, for instance, and there are others) complicate the plot in what now seem for Quinn to be predictable and clichéd ways. Again, the characters are stick figures –Michael’s daughter an over-the-top stand-in for the spoiled and neglected teen-ager, Renata’s family a set of stereotypes veering dangerously toward racist - and the situations too coincidental and familiar to be satisfying. The “moral” of this story is that a woman must choose among love, career and children. She can’t have more than two, Christy has been told by the book’s wise African-American nanny figure (another stereotype, despite the fact that this one quotes Shakespeare all over the place). So Christy chooses. If you’re still wanting to read, I’ll leave it for you to find out which.