Top critical review
"The Perpetual Teen With Ageing Ovaries." A Grimm Sisters fairy tale.
Reviewed in the United States on June 1, 2020
People hired to write book blurbs today must have all dreamed of becoming doctors. Every Kindle First selection this month is "Heart-warming" or "heart-stopping." "Spine-chilling" or "gut-wrenching." Covid is raging, the unemployment rate is soaring, and there's rioting in the streets. My spine is sufficiently chilled and my guts are already wrenched and I'm afraid to take my blood pressure. In the absence of a non-fiction selection, I picked this book, the "heart-warming" one.
It's billed as a "Book Club Novel." I'd be tempted to call it a "romance" novel, but my friends who read romance novels tell me that new ones now are mostly soft-core porn and this book isn't raunchy. No graphic sex and the language is so clean it was almost a relief when the narrator got irritated enough to say, "Screw both of you!:" There was nothing in it that raised a blush on the cheeks of this elderly spinster, although there was plenty that left me scratching my head, starting with the fact that it's a Kindle book written by an author who seems never to have heard of e-books. In this story, it's hard-back or paper-back. OK, it's set in 2008, but plenty of us had switched to e-books by then.
The narrator is 32-year-old Dodie, the middle of three sisters. After several years of trying to support herself as a free-lance artist in New York City, she retreats to the idyllic small town of Chatsworth, Connecticut, where she's now a primary school art teacher. She's had her heart broken by a sophisticated New York businessman who urged her to have a showing of her paintings, then shrugged when the critics trashed them. She needs a man who'll support her dreams. A man who's both strong and sensitive; protective and vulnerable; manly and malleable. Good luck, honey.
It's the old, old story of a young woman who wants to get married and have children, but can't seem to find the perfect mate. What's she doing wrong? In my day, a girl batted her eyelashes and acted helpless. Since men were expected to be married by twenty-five or so, it generally got her a husband. Then she spent the next four or five decades putting up with him. It wasn't a perfect system or it wouldn't have been dismantled in only a few generations. But what's replaced it?
I'm puzzled by Dodie and her friends. Do women in their thirties use expressions like "super cool" and "whatevs"? They blush and giggle like middle-schoolers and plot together to meet cute guys, but they also consult doctors about their fertility. How long can Dodie wait to have a child? Should she adopt, like her friend? Where does her new man fit it? Can she mold him into the mate she wants or does he (gasp!) have his own ideas about what he wants?
Dodie is a modern "superwoman." She wants to be a great teacher and a potent force in her students' lives. She wants an active social life and an impressive home and gourmet food on the table and a hot man and a baby and to run the lending library she's started in her own home when the local library is closed indefinitely. This would be a full plate (physically and financially) for about THREE women, but Dodie is puzzled that she can't manage it all effortlessly. Modern Americans have almost unlimited choices. Many are so dazzled by all the possibilities they have difficulty making any choices at all.
I got mental whiplash reading this book. The language is so clean and some of the themes so old-fashioned, it was like reading a novel set in the 1950's, but many of Dodie's friends are gay and there's an interracial couple and a single woman is adopting an African child and everybody is just so THRILLED about all of it. OK, NOT the 1950's, but not very believable for 2008, either.
Chatsworth is a fairy-tale town with quaint houses and shady lanes and the only worm in the apple is a boring fellow-teacher who likes math instead of books and art. Bad boy! The inhabitants all have favorite teas from that FABULOUS little shop in Paris and even the construction workers have model-worthy hair and use hand-made soaps. How could our heroine be unhappy amidst so much trendiness?
It's because the sisters' biological father deserted the family. He was replaced early on by a loving step-father and their childhood was a comfortable one, but still they feel rejected and worthless. All three of them. Realistic?
Probably not any more unrealistic than Dodie moving to Chatsworth and finding a great job and buying a great house and being welcomed with open arms by all the inhabitants. Due to high taxes, house prices in Connecticut are appalling. Those quaint houses in lovely small towns in Connecticut usually sell to people who've made Big Money in New York and are looking for a civilized place to spend it. Would a young, single teacher be able to afford an architectural gem of a house? Even one who doesn't have Dodie's insanely expensive tastes in food, entertainment, etc?
I was disappointed in this book. I love to read and used to haunt libraries, but even the story of Dodie starting the ambitious lending library and it being such a HUGE success and everyone LOVING her for doing it doesn't ring true. If the people of Chatsworth love libraries so much, why can't they help with the costs of running Dodie's? And do construction workers really swing much weight with investors who have enough money to build malls?
She's not a bad person, but I found her silly and immature. She's simultaneously kind-hearted and generous and blindly self-centered. OK. Young people today don't mature as early as they used to. Given how long they'll live, maybe they can afford an extended adolescence, but marriage and the responsibilities of parenthood should only be attempted by ADULTS.
This is a book for young women who think like Dodie does. And for foodies, especially those who believe that EXPENSIVE junk food is OK. I was SO annoyed at all the talk about high-sugar foods. When the mother of a toddler politely points out that too much sugar makes her kid hyper and cranky, Dodie agrees guiltily. Then the NEXT words out of her mouth are, "Let's play a game! If you win, I'll buy you an ice cream cone!" This woman shouldn't be raising a gerbil until she gets some common sense and can control her sugar-fetish.
The author's portrayal of older generations is totally off-base. Women who were young in 1960 didn't talk about having a "beau." I was young in the 1960's and 70's. Plenty of us passed on marriage or children or both. It's like the author thinks we skipped from "Happy Days" to 2008 with nothing in between.
It's a light read and some of the characters were moderately interesting. Every young person in every generation must deal with the hard realities of life, but no writer should be this heavy-handed about making her points.