Women are everywhere… Presidential candidate podiums, winning MMA belt championships, floating in the universe on space stations, nursing babies in fine restaurants, being rolled on wheelchairs through Botanic Gardens. There are so many competing ideas about women, womanhood, what’s best, what’s right for whom and when. It’s a wonder we all fall into one category… This issue of Bookisshh offers one tug at a lens through which women view themselves. Take care not to tear it as you consider, “Three Martini Lunch” by Suzanne Rindell and “The Restaurant Critic’s Wife” by Elizabeth LaBan.
Being a mom changes things. Being a stay-at-home mom changes everything. This is the story of Liza Soto, former Crisis Manager for a prestigious hotel corporation, now mother of two, and wife of Sam the Restaurant Critic. New to Philadelphia, Liza suffers from social isolation and the secondary status of the stay-at-home mom. Sam has an obsession with secreting his identity from restauranteurs and his readers which exerts intense pressure on Liza’s freedom to build friendships.
LeBan draws decent characters but implausible relationships leaning too heavily upon the ideal. There’s the gay-husband-waiter-friend dying to get dirty and help with Liza’s kids and the ex-boyfriend expecting her relationship guidance. People like them are few and far between, but at the very least, facilitate Liza’s self-discovery. Honest in this work is the conflict many stay-at-homes suffer from: a loss of identity and struggle with reinventing one. Furthermore, the communication between husband and wife in their negotiation of happiness, work and responsibility are unrealistic, but hopeful seeds are planted.
There’s no shorthand in this work when it comes to description of food and fanfare. The food characters order are meals I’d like to feast upon and detailed are ones I’d enjoy. Each chapter initiates with an excerpt from Sam’s reviews and demonstrates dining’s transcendant capacity in addition to gimmickry chefs and restauranteurs utilize (It’s comical the lengths Sam will go to in defrauding them). The Fairy and Goblin party for the block’s children is one worth replicating complete with fairy dust, twigs, painted acorn tea sets and dancing from sunshine to moonlight with colorful ribbons everywhere. Simply gorgeous.
On a final note, what’s missing is the narcissistic competition and exclusion among women that exists on city blocks and in suburbs large and small. The absence of this theme is akin to a loud alarm waking one from a pleasant dream. That’s just how “The Restaurant Critic’s Wife” reads–like a pleasant dream.
Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Greenwich Village 1958. The Golden Age of Publishing. Hipsters, Beatniks, Negroes, Jews and women toeing toward opportunity to be heard and express the emerging openness of the good ol’ USA.
Told in three alternating points of view, Rindell takes us into the world of Eden, Miles and Cliff all of whom are mesmerized by the power of the pen.
Eden struggles with feminist ideals of the time. She wants a top-notch Editor position, in a top-notch firm which doesn’t necessarily promote women or Jewish community members. Eden lives in a women’s hotel, eats when she can afford to and attends every publishing party to learn who’s who. Eden comes to New York City armed with letters of recommendation but little does she know that there is poison contained there within. Eden crosses into the Beatnik world and meets Cliff who ultimately will join her in a secret marriage.
Miles, modeled after Richard Baldwin, struggles with creating a whole story and likely because he doesn’t possess his own. Upon graduating from Columbia, his Harlem residing mama gives him an important key that will hopefully offer him closure and confidence to tell stories in full. Miles discovers journeys to San Francisco and learns important truths about his father and himself. Miles enters the “down-low” community and struggles with homo/heterosexuality. He has left behind his fiancée and discovered his male lover. Miles’ resolution brings an end to the clubbiness all characters engage in.
Cliff, frustrated writer a variant Hemingway wannabee, poor rich boy playing beatnik. His story is the failed relationships between fathers and families and individuals staking their place in the adult world as result. Cliff symbolizes white opportunism living off the backs of their colored brothers, though some interesting twists and turns are part of his drama. In sum, all the characters weave together, become entangled and are ripped apart.
On a final note, “Three Martini Lunch” would’ve worked better as two books. Rindell should’ve chosen the story she really wanted to develop instead of toggling back, forth and fro between them. It made the work weaker instead of stronger. It leaves the reader too oft in the periphery as voyeur du jour.