Saturday, June 3, 2017

Midlife in a Mess

City of FriendsCity of Friends by Joanna Trollope
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've got a mixed message about Trollope's twentieth novel. I did like it, but as emotionally on point this story about women friends in midlife's varied crises may be, the book itself falls flat. Melissa, Gaby, Stacey, and Beth have been friends since university. They are all extremely successful, Beth in academia and the others in business. Stacey is fired instead of given flex time when her mother is diagnosed with dementia; Gaby can't give her a job because she just hired the wife of the father of Melissa's fifteen-year-old son. Beth's relationship falls apart suddenly, spectacularly. Gaby has two teens and a preteen, plenty of drama in her household as well. The day Stacey is fired, she has a plot-pivotal interaction with an immigrant woman on a park bench, and it's what highlights the sour notes in the novel. Emotionally, the book rings true to upper middle class women dealing with sexism in the workplace, with changing relationships and teenage children and ageing parents, with job loss and stress and various degrees of spousal support; but I can't believe this pivotal interaction took place. That particular plot-working reeks of condescension and perhaps a clumsy attempt at political correctness that succeeds as smugness. (The "secret" is clumsy, too.) Though it's full of Facebook, the attitudes and atmosphere in this novel are firmly in the twentieth century and not the twenty-first. The best women's fiction mimics real life, only better; this is more escapist melodrama, fun but not profound.

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