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Social Lives

By Wendy Walker

St. Martin’s Press – September 2009

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Social-Lives-Wendy-Walker/dp/0312378165

 

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.

— Honeybee

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In no certain order these are the books up next for review:

CHILDPROOFED by Reese Reed

MUD AND GOLD  by Shayne Parkinson

SCOUNDREL’S KISS  by Carrie Lofty

BUNCO BABES TELL ALL  by Maria Geraci

SOCIAL LIVES  by Wendy Walker

PROMISE ME TONIGHT  by Sara Lindsey

BECOMING  by Mark Lichterman

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wendy walkerI’m feeling very guilty these days. Yes, I know. This is hardly uncommon among mothers, especially working mothers. Still, when I sat down to write this blog for Working Girl Reviews, it was guilt that was on my mind.

Here is the source of this mind-consuming guilt. I love my work. I love writing, editing, thinking about what to write. I love working in pajamas from my bed or out on my little patio. I love the progression of a novel, from the little aha! moments that come while I’m carting the kids around or taking a long run in the woods, to seeing my book in a store. I love meeting people, writers, readers, bloggers and reviewers. I love talking to book groups about the issues my characters face, and even the author events that give me massive anxiety but always seem to go just fine.

I love my work. This should be a good thing. A gift, really. And what’s even better is that my work gives me a great deal of flexibility to be with my kids when they’re out of school. But another summer has come and gone, and I realize that I am the only mother among my peers who is jumping up and down with glee. Indeed, the other moms are lamenting the loss of carefree, unstructured days with their children, lounging at the pool or beach while their kids play with their friends, and sleeping in.

When I think about summer, I think about checking my BlackBerry while standing in line for a ride at Playland, sneaking interviews and twitter updates, and scrounging like a scavenger for time to meet revision deadlines. This job that is very manageable during the school year, is suddenly at odds with my other job as a mother. From May until September, I do a kind of mental gymnastics to give my three very energetic boys enough fun and exercise and mental stimulation, while still keeping my career afloat. Wherever I am, there is a part of my brain pulling me toward my desk.

A good friend of mine called the other day to catch up. She’s a partner at a very big law firm and has an awesome career. Lately, she said, she’s been swamped at work. When Friday night comes around, she feels like a new person. Her weekends are spent with her kids, hiking and exploring. We talked about how cute they are at these ages, and how precious this time is because they are growing up so fast. And while I agreed with all of that, I felt this pit in my stomach that for too much of the time I spend with my kids there is a part of me longing to work.

There it is. I’ve admitted it. I love my kids more than anything. And there are moments with them that are so spectacularly wondrous they eclipse any and all satisfaction that comes from work. Still, on a day to day basis, I am bitterly torn between them and my desire to pursue my career.

How is this to be reconciled? I ask myself this every day. For most of the year, I have it figured out. I belong to my job from 9-2, and I belong to them from 2-9. Given the morning hours to work in a steady and concentrated way, I can be totally present for my kids all afternoon and evening. I drive, cook, clean, supervise homework, get them to bed. We play outside and have bon fires and soak in the hot tub. And work is neatly tucked away. The year flows by and soon it’s winter, then spring. May eventually comes again, and the chaos is upon me.

I wonder many things about this. I wonder if it would be different if I worked in an office year round, if I had no choice to make between work and kids. I wonder if I’m going to wake up in 20 years and kick myself for pulling out that BlackBerry at Playland and not being fully present every chance I got. I know plenty about the dilemmas women have balancing work and family from editing a book (Power Moms) for Chicken Soup for the Soul. There is no perfect solution, and guilt abounds.

I have been a stay-home mom for eleven years. My career as an author used to be nothing more than a pipe dream that gave way to every demand the family had. I wrote whenever and wherever I could, but never when anyone or anything needed me. When that dream became more of a reality with my first book deal, I let it come in a little more, carving out time with babysitters so I could finish a chapter. Now, ten years later, it has become a career that I could easily work at day and night. My second novel, Social Lives, was just released and there is a movie deal in the works with the producers who made the Twilight series. Running through my mind are all the ways I could be promoting the novel, spreading the good news.

School started last week. As my kids dragged themselves out of bed early, I tried hard to mask my excitement. It wasn’t that I wanted to be without them. Yet I can’t deny that I was looking forward to the glorious treat that was coming my way. Time. Now that it’s here, I will make good use of it. And when it’s gone, I will savor my children who will soon be gone as well. Round and round it will go. I’m not sure I will ever figure any of this out. Maybe it’s enough that I can write about it.

Wendy Walker

http://wendywalkerbooks.com

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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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