By Wendy Walker
St. Martin’s Press – September 2009
When Wendy Walker’s Social Lives, a story about the trials and tribulations of three families in an exclusive Connecticut suburb, came my way for review, a part of me was prepared not to like it. Call it good, old-fashioned jealousy; I have a tough time feeling sorry for the ultra-rich. But despite my misgivings, with each turn of the page I found myself more deeply immersed in the lives and troubles of these characters.
Rosalyn Barlow has the most coveted social position in Wilshire. With her handsome billionaire husband and her multimillion-dollar estate, Rosalyn has made it her life’s work to know the right people, chair the best committees, and throw the perfect parties. In Rosalyn’s world appearances are everything. Little do the people of Wilshire know of the threads of turmoil that run through the Barlow family tapestry, threatening at any moment to unravel.
Jacqueline Halstead is one of Rosalyn’s closest friends. But when her husband’s bad investment decisions threaten to destroy the home she has created for her children, the ghosts of her dysfunctional childhood arise, throwing “Jacks” into survival mode. She devises a plan to save her family at all costs– even if it means bringing the Barlow family down.
The newest and youngest member of Rosalyn’s circle of friends, Sara Livingston just can’t seem to get anything right. From her clothes to her bright red mini van, every decision she makes seems to blow up in her face. With a house caught in restoration hell, a nanny who threatens to usurp Sara’s role as mother to her small daughter, and the strain of the devastating secret she keeps from her husband, Sara’s battered nerves cause her to look for friendship in all the wrong places.
I found the cast of characters in this novel to be absolutely delightful, with the secondary characters every bit as well drawn as the primary. From the Barlow’s angst filled and rebellious daughter, Caitlin, to Kelly, Jacks’ older and wiser sister, to Rosalyn, who lives in the lap of luxury and still manages to live in misery, Ms. Walker has nailed the complexities of human nature to a tee. Taking as its theme a collection of wealthy women in American suburbia, one might be tempted to think Social Lives is just another “love it and leave it” contemporary story. Not so. The author takes on some tough and important issues like teen sexuality, a friend’s betrayal, and marital infidelity. Kudos to Wendy Walker for handling them so powerfully and eloquently.
Reading this book, I found myself smiling one minute and wanting to cry the next. The story paints a brilliant picture of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and yet it shows clearly that wealth does not necessarily equate to happiness. Indeed, money can bring with it its own unique set of problems. But mostly, the story proves that women are women, sharing the same fears, joys, struggles and concerns no matter what their socioeconomic background. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys stories of women and their relationships.