MARRIAGE VACATION, All I Ever Wanted?

book cover.pngIf you’ve seen the TV series Younger then Marriage Vacation is a book that you’re already deeply intimate with. It’s a book written by the character Pauline Turner Brooks, the estranged wife of publisher Charles Brooks. The story is a fictionalized retelling of how she, an Upper East Side mother of two, took a yearlong trip away from her family and marriage.

In the book, our heroine Kate goes to a friend’s wedding for the weekend without her husband (who had to stay behind for work). When she reconnects with her old college friends she’s reminded of who she used to be before she became a wife and mother. And, more importantly, how she had planned on being a writer—a passion that has lain dormant for the last ten years. Through a quick series of events that require some suspension of disbelief, she ends up at a zen retreat in Thailand. She’s quick to make the obvious comparison to Eat, Pray, Love, but this retreat from life is more about finding her authentic self and what that means for returning to her family.

From here the story loses some of its juiciness. It gets held up on Kate’s quest to be a “good” person, a volunteer committed to those truly in need. A great sentiment, but her constant comparisons to her old posh life and her current, more primitive, dwellings become a bit exhausting. All of which is compounded by her often tedious prose style (although said prose style does expertly match the tedium of her as a character on the show).

The novel, of course, is trying to appeal to Younger’s audience. So the story is littered with moments we’ve seen on the show, and we learn a lot about her relationship with her husband, Karl (page 58, am I right?). These juicy bits are what kept me going through the middle slog of the book, where it felt like the story was just killing time until it could ramp up to the climax of her adventures.

The novel’s success relies on how much you, as the reader, can appreciate and withstand all the meta levels of the story. Simon & Schuster published the book as a Millennial print (as it is on the show) with the author being the character from the show (although it was actually written by Jo Piazza). The book itself is a fictional retelling of a fictional marriage published in a fictional world. It’s easy to get lost in the layers of storytelling happening in the book. But it’s not necessary to grasp all the layers to enjoy it.

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On the show, Pauline is seen mostly as a “villain.” She’s one of the (albeit many) obstacles between Liza and Charles getting together. Her appearance on the show is disruptive, as is her attempt to rekindle her relationship with Charles. There are only a few episodes in her two-season arc where you almost begin to get invested in her. But it’s not long until she’s back to causing trouble for the primary characters.

So it felt weird to read the book and actually like her. She presents her case well—if not a bit tooearnestly. And it is always great to see the other side of the story (think of Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowedand Something Bluenovels). It almost becomes easier to shut out thoughts of the show and just focus on the novel as a standalone entity. In which case, Marriage Vacationsucceeds in telling a compelling story that you can enjoy without having ever seen an episode of Younger. But, as a fan of the show, I did enjoy it—meta layers and all—even if I did have a hard time trying to root for her to get her happy ending.

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CHASE Down HARRY WINSTON on Audibook

It’s all been downhill since Lauren Weisberger’s successful 2003 bestselling debut novel The Devil Wears Prada (whose film adaptation is even more successful and beloved than the novel—or supposed roman a clef—was). Her second novel Everyone Worth Knowing was fun and readable though hardly substantial, but her third novel Chasing Harry Winston is quite possibly her worst book to date (even more so than the drivel that is Revenge Wears Prada). However, as terrible as the book Harry Winston is in textual form, a curious thing happens when you listen to the audiobook: it becomes highly entertaining and engaging!
Chasing-Harry-Winston-275375The audiobook is voiced by Lily Rabe, who is singlehandedly the reason the book is so successful in this format. Rabe dives into the story, bringing unique voicing to the trio of women who serve as protagonists for the novel. Her Emmy is squeaky and unsure of herself going into her thirties as a recently dumped single woman. Adriana comes off as chic and confident and endlessly entertaining with Rabe’s deep, throaty, sultry voice for the character—sounding like a completely different person. And Leigh, in Rabe’s “normal voice,” is the stubborn one whose struggles with her impending marriage and her job as an editor feel the most fleshed out and relatable. Overall, Rabe sounds like she is having so much fun acting out the story that you can’t help but enjoy it, even at its most eye-roll-inducing.
And Harry Winston induces eye-rolls in spades. The crux of the novel involves these three women make a pact to change their lives—through anonymous sex or hunting for a serious relationship—which sounds like the beginning of any romantic comedy ever. And the story’s devolution into a mash-up of clichés merely begins there. While blessedly spared of extraneous details and dialogue that make reading the book so tedious, the abridged audiobook actually feels too short and quick. That’s how incredible Lily Rabe is. She actually leaves you wanting more from Entertainment Weekly’s “#1 Worst Book of 2008.”
I will forever love and read Lauren Weisberger if only for the nostalgia of when I first read her novels and loved them with all the joy of a guilty pleasure. But her novels translate better into audiobooks, letting strong actresses (like Merritt Wever!!) bring out the best, entertaining aspects of the novel. And Chasing Harry Winston is such a treat as an audiobook.

Helen Fielding Will Make You Just MAD ABOUT BRIDGET JONES All Over Again

This year has seen a slew of high profile authors releasing sequels to their iconic novels (Stephen King, John Grisham, Lauren Weisberger). So Helen Fielding’s follow-up to her Bridget Jones books seems to be perfectly timed. Since Edge of Reason was released in 1998, a lot has happened in Bridget’s life. Fielding has updated Bridget to the present day, and created some controversial storytelling in the process.
bridget-jones-mad-about-the-boy1It’s been four years since Bridget’s husband Mark Darcy died, leaving her with their two children, Billy and Mabel. Her recovery from this tragedy has been a long process, but her friends insist on pushing her to start dating again. And just like that, our old friend Bridget is back. She goes on a diet, joins Twitter, and starts writing a screenplay—bumbling and fumbling through it all in true Bridget fashion.
While most of Britain was in an uproar at the death of Darcy, I feel that it was a smart move. Bridget has always been about her troubles with men, so it would make sense to have her dating once again. And this way we get to keep a pure memory of Darcy and don’t resent Bridget’s new loves—although her dating a younger man is equally controversial. But her toy boy Roxster (whom she meets through Twitter) is a charming match, and they have exceptional chemistry in the novel—even though it is a bit juvenile.
Where Mad About the Boy falters, though, is in the overall storytelling. Bridget’s struggles with social media and texting are spot on, but so much of her mom drama and screenplay ineptitudes are long drawn out. Far too much time is spent dealing with a bout of head lice. And Fielding seems to have reached a new record for the number of times a book has used the word fart. Despite this, Bridget’s shorter diary entries—no longer constrained to the month-by-month format—help move the story along much faster.
As someone very plugged into the pop culture of the moment, I found this entry in the series the most accessible. Her humor really shines through in this novel more so than in the previous ones. It was impossible for me to read this book without a huge grin on my face. I definitely recommend any fan of Bridget Jones to pick up a copy ASAP.