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Working Girl Reviews is excited to have Four Wives author, Wendy Walker, guestblogging on Monday (Sept. 14) and thought we’d give you some info on her newly released novel Social Lives. Don’t forget to check back for Wendy’s blog post on Monday.

Social Lives ushers in “recession lit”
In Wendy Walker novel, struggling wives take stock of economy, husbands
 
NEW YORK – Blame it on the collapse of AIG, the Bernie Madoff scandal, or a combination of nasty recession realities.  Suddenly, the women’s fiction heroine of old no longer seems to hold her heralded spot at the local bookstore.  The celebutantes and shopaholics are no longer confessing – and in fact, the darker realities that plague the wealthy class are gaining more literary attention than their escapist predecessors.  With dwindling finances, smaller credit card limits, and consequential marital problems, contemporary readers are more likely to identify with Revolutionary Road than Madison Avenue.  Enter recession lit.
 
“I wanted to look at what happens when everything is lost, but from a woman’s perspective,” says Wendy Walker, author of Social Lives (St. Martin’s Press, September 2009, 978-0-312-36772-5, $24.99).  “In many ways, these wealthy social structures are built like a house of cards, particularly for the women who don’t have another deck to play with.”
 
But as Ruth La Ferla wrote in her August New York Times article, “misfortune can be a fine muse…Once unabashedly focused on the perks of wealth and fame, this spate of new fiction is tackling the recession and its attendant woes,” writes La Ferla, who pointed to Walker’s Social Lives as a prime example.
 
“We’re hearing a lot about the wives of men like Bernie Madoff. Should they be punished for the crimes of their husbands?” said Walker in a recent interview with British news daily The Independent.  “You get a division of labor when a husband is banking so much money on Wall Street: Wives give up their jobs and become professional homemakers and mothers, but these skills have no market value unless they’re attached to a man.”
 
One such homemaker is Jacqueline Halstead, a character in Social Lives whose husband is being investigated for a Madoff-like scandal.  Set in a gilded enclave of Manhattan’s prosperous elite, Social Lives follows Jacqueline and three other women:  A billionaire’s wife struggling with her husband’s increasing distance, her teenage daughter wrapped up in sexual scandal, and a wary newcomer afraid of the neighborhood’s suffocating social mandates.  
 
The second novel from Walker, Social Lives is – like her previous work Four Wives (St. Martin’s Press, 2008) – also set in a wealthy Connecticut neighborhood.  Only now, the fragilities of her characters echo loudly in today’s headlines and news reports.
 
“Now, we have this new twist where the husband loses everything and the wife is looking at all she’s done and achieved over decades and realizing that she is still helpless – not only to provide for herself, but for her children as well,” Walker told MediaBistro’s “Galley Cat” blog in an August interview.  “It is thus an economic issue, a social issue, and a feminist issue all in one. What could be more interesting for women’s fiction?”
 
WENDY WALKER is a former commercial litigator and investment banker who now works at home in Connecticut writing and raising her children.  She is the author of Four Wives (St. Martin’s Press, 2008), the editor of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power Moms (Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC, March 2009), and the editor of the forthcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad, both releasing Spring 2010.  For more information, please visit www.wendywalkerbooks.com.

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stillaliceStill Alice

By: Lisa Genova

ISBN-13: 978-1-4391-0281-7

Pocket Books – Jan 6, 2009

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Still-Alice-Lisa-Genova/dp/1439102813


Readers join Alice, a well respected Harvard Professor, researcher and world traveling convention lecturer on her journey into dementia. Expecting a diagnosis of menopause after some minor physical and mental changes Alice is shocked to be diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease before her 50th birthday. Throughout the story Alice shares her thoughts and struggles with the reader. At first her thoughts are intelligent and coherent and she is only slightly irritated when she misplaces things or forgets an appointment. As one can guess her irritation increases and her thoughts become less coherent as the book moves along. The forgetfulness increases until it is no longer objects that are lost but Alice herself getting lost in her neighborhood and even in her own home. Readers travel with Alice as she receives the diagnosis and shares it with her family and coworkers. The story of Alice’s mental decline covers a two year span chronicling Alice’s hopes and fears, positive and negative feelings, and jumbled up thoughts.

Although it’s not realistic to expect that a person with dementia would be able to chronicle very far into their journey on their own, I enjoyed having the book written from Alice’s viewpoint. I think it humanized victims of the dreaded diagnosis and gave wonderful insight into what many actually feel, think and wish they could express.

Alice doesn’t want to be a burden to her family or the laughing stock of the college community. She wonders if she will know when the time is right to stop doing certain things. She creates a daily memory quiz and gives herself constant reminders in her PDA to help her through each day. She struggles to cope with changes and also struggles to help her family come to terms with changes ahead for them. Her diagnosis is devastating for her family, but in the end it brings them closer together and they all pitch in to help keep her routine. As she watches them rally around her she can’t help but wonders how long she will recognize them. She is plagued with guilt when she finds out that she passed the gene to at least one of her children. She wants to be part of the cure so her children or grandchildren never develop Alzheimer’s. She wants to live life to the fullest while she can yet she doesn’t want to be around when she can no longer function and think on her own. As she plans for her future she visits a care facility and even considers suicide. I didn’t agree with everything Alice and her family did after the diagnosis but I felt compassion for the position they were in and understood many of the reactions.  Alice sets out to read as many books as she can. When the printed page no longer holds her attention she starts watching classic movies and home videos. She wants to add more to the family legacy and she desperately wants to be there to hold her grandchildren. Alice is brave and strong. Even in her struggle she wants to educate others. You will feel pride when she starts an early onset support group and you might want to cheer when she makes a speech at an Alzheimer’s convention. As daily mix ups were recounted you might find yourself starting to smile or laugh only to be hit with a wave of sadness and then anger at yourself for even thinking of laughing for nothing about this decline is funny. You might even cry!


The Author has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, and is an online author for the National Alzheimer’s Association therefore this book is much more than just a novel. Still Alice is a thought provoking story. It is heartbreaking yet encouraging. The author provides hope in a time of despair and Alice herself shows us beauty in darkness. I thought about Alice for several days after I finished reading the book. I felt connected to Alice and had to remind myself that the book was fiction and not about a real person.  I recommend this book to all readers not just those who may have a family member struggling with this devastating diagnosis. All readers can benefit from this book because none of us knows who in our family might someday suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The book doesn’t offer a map to coping with the disease but rather it reminds readers to look beyond the disease and take time to see the person. Where there is life there is humanity and we must treat all humanity with dignity and respect. She may be slipping away but she is Still Alice. An additional reason to purchase the book is that a portion of the sale of each novel will go to the Alzheimer’s Association. Good for you Lisa Genova!

Pearl

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