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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CARTWHEEL Is a Mental Gymnastic Story of Misperceptions and Half-Truths

In 2007, Amanda Knox was charged with murder for the death of her roommate in Italy. What ensued was a complex case with many unknown variables that still resulted in a conviction of her and others involved in the incident. Author Jennifer duBois uses this intriguing and tragic real life story as the basis for her latest novel, Cartwheel. She changes the setting and the names, but the heart of the true events remain as she explores how this terrible crime could have happened.
Cover-of-CartwheelLily Hayes has come to Buenos Aires to study Spanish. Once there, she gets caught up in a love triangle of sorts with her roommate Katy Kellers and their reclusive neighbor Sebastian LeCompte. So, when Katy is found dead, by Lily, the police are quick to accuse Lily. What follows is a tale of obscured truths and misconceived notions that culminate in destructive fashion. From the baffling cartwheel that Lily performs in her initial interrogation to the influence of the prosecutor’s wife on his investigation you’ll be squirming in your seat seeing how the characters squander their own reputations in their attempts to save them.
While duBois uses the framework of the Knox case to inform her story, she takes us deep into the characters minds to see how the case became so controversial. We see through the main characters’ eyes how their perceptions of each other and the lies they tell, often innocently, come back to hurt them. She paints a fully-realized portrait of the events surrounding the murder, but duBois never shows us what really happened the night of the murder, leaving us to guess what really happened.
It may be disheartening to know that the truth is not revealed, but the purpose of Cartwheel is to decide the truth for yourself (just as the characters so recklessly do). Consider yourself the judge as Lily Hayes is put on trial. We’re certainly given enough information to decide for ourselves (and enough information to mourn what happened to Amanda Knox). The insights into the characters are layered and nuanced, making Sebastian into a likable, yet smarmy, love interest and the prosecutor Eduardo Campos into a despicable manipulator (but that’s just my interpretation of the characters—what’s yours?).
Jennifer duBois uses a rich language to tell this story, making it all that more vivid. But duBois does not want you to think that she presumes to have the answers to the real Knox case. Knox may have allegedly done a cartwheel (a fact which has since been confirmed false); but Lily really did. And, as duBois puts it, “In the real universe is a girl who never did a cartwheel. This novel is the story of a girl who did.”

You Won’t Be MADD When You Read Atwood’s Final MADDADDAM Novel

17262203In her final installment in the MaddAddam trilogy, Margaret Atwood brings together the large cast of characters from Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. Told through Toby, we learn the fate of Jimmy, Amanda, and Ren after capturing the Painballers and see how the remaining humans deal with the ever-curious Crakers, increasingly-intelligent pigoons, and survival in this post-apocalyptic world. Crake’s “perfect” new world didn’t begin as smoothly as he would have liked, and the human factor remains as a potential force to upset his intentions with the Crakers.
Continuing her flashback structure implemented in the previous novels, Atwood also tells us the history of Zeb and Adam One. Raised as brothers, the boys had a close bond not unlike that of Jimmy and Glenn. Zeb was the rebellious one, always making jokes (like Jimmy); and Adam the reserved one, always plotting (like Crake). As Zeb tells Toby about his past, we see even more connections between the characters and get some final insights into Crake’s origin’s and those of MaddAddam. It’s fascinating to see the parallels between Zeb and Jimmy’s story, and it fully paints the picture of this rich (and ever frightening) future that Atwood has developed.
Just like The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam is reminiscent of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked novels. Despite not having green skin, Toby could easily be Elphaba, speaking to bees and communing with the Crakers. Unlike Elphaba, though, Toby does not come off as wicked at all (although she does imbibe the story with the dry wit that Maguire is known for), proving herself to be the true heroine of this trilogy. (Jimmy, who is still sick for most of this novel, is more of a backseat hero.) And, just like the Wicked novels, it is sad to leave the world Atwood has created when you finish the novels. With so much more left that could be said and explored, maybe another novel could appear along the road? (And, just as unlikely, wouldn’t it be amazing to see these books adapted for television? Someone call JJ Abrams.)