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.

Book vs. TV: THE RETURNED Conundrum

17182421What if your dead loved ones returned to your life? Such is the premise of Jason Mott’s The Returned, inspired by a dream he had of his mother. Throughout the world, people—or whatever they are—reappear, causing global strife. Where they return and which dead ones return appears random, and leaves even more questions for the newly created International Bureau of the Returned.

The story opens itself up to all aspects of supernatural/sci-fi storytelling. Undead people, mysterious circumstances—Stephen King could knock out a 1,000-page book about it, easily. But Mott’s novel does not concern itself so much with uncovering the facts of these bizarre aspects and, instead, focuses on how it affects the small town of Arcadia and the quiet lives of the people therein.

The novel’s main perspective jumps between the aging Hargraves. Harold and Lucille lost their son Jacob about 50 years ago, and when he appears on their doorstep—thanks to Bureau Agent Bellamy—neither of them knows what to make of it. As the Returned’s presence sparks strife throughout the world, the Hargraves try to reconcile what Jacob’s return means to them. But circumstances grow increasingly dangerous as Arcadia reacts to being invaded by both the Returned and the government.

If this story sounds familiar, then you may have been one of the few viewers of ABC’s recent drama Resurrection. That show was adapted from Mott’s novel, expanding his world of characters to better suit a TV series. And, in fact, the series improves upon Mott’s novel (perhaps thanks to his consultation on the show?), with characters actively seeking answers to the riddles of the Returned.

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While the show (at least for now) lacks some of the global expansiveness of the novel, it is far easier to get drawn into its world. Mott’s writing has a slow, contemplative pace that is punctuated far too frequently with Southern colloquialisms. You practically hear a Southern drawl as you read his words. The series matches the contemplative, slow boil storytelling but foregoes most of that treacly Southern charm which grates the reader in the novel.

The Returned and Resurrection address thoughtful issues of religion and human rights and do so in a tactful, grounded way. But Mott’s novel never seems to quite get to where it needs to be, distractingly lacking a certain verve (my mind strayed far too often when reading it). But Resurrection excels at improving upon its source material and creating an urgency in its storytelling. Blessedly, it’s been renewed for a second season, which gives you about a year to breeze through the series’ first eight episodes.

 

Sidebar: How Enraptured Are We with the Rapture?

TheReturned_CompleteIf the title The Returned sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve been too busy watching the French series The Returned (aka Les Revenants), which also deals with dead people returning to their homes. The series’ existence necessitated the title change for the TV series adapted from Mott’s novel, even though the title The Returned was perfect for it. And, in case that isn’t enough, A&E is adapting the French Returned (which has aired in the US on the Sundance channel) into an American series, also titled The Returned—in a frightening trend of adapting perfectly delightful international series into American ones (even if all that’s changed is the name of the city and everyone’s accents—I’m looking at you Broadchurch/Gracepoint).

left-behind-bookBut all this Returned business is punctuated by the increase in the opposite premise occurring as well. The Leftovers, one of HBO’s summer shows (based on Tom Perrotta’s novel), focuses on the lives of those left behind after a significant (and random) chunk of the population up and disappears. While that lacks the religiosity of the Rapture, Nicolas Cage is starring in a mainstream reboot of the highly Christian (and highly addictive) Left Behind novels.

Someone seems to think audiences are currently captivated by the Afterlife—in one way or another—but how much of this can we really handle before it becomes passé? (And whom do you despise more: Nicolas Cage or Kirk Cameron, who originated the role that Cage is taking on?)