Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.
Mrs. by Caitlin Macy

BOTTOM LINE: It is not a modern-day House of Mirth. Not even close.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: 13 February 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“In the well-heeled milieu of New York’s Upper East Side, coolly elegant Philippa Lye is the woman no one can stop talking about. Despite a shadowy past, Philippa has somehow married the scion of the last family-held investment bank in the city. And although her wealth and connections put her in the center of this world, she refuses to conform to its gossip-fueled culture.

Then, into her precariously balanced life, come two women: Gwen Hogan, a childhood acquaintance who uncovers an explosive secret about Philippa’s single days, and Minnie Curtis, a newcomer whose vast fortune and frank revelations about a penurious upbringing in Spanish Harlem put everyone on alert.

When Gwen’s husband, a heavy-drinking, obsessive prosecutor in the US Attorney’s Office, stumbles over the connection between Philippa’s past and the criminal investigation he is pursuing at all costs, this insulated society is forced to confront the rot at its core and the price it has paid to survive into the new millennium.

Macy has written a modern-day House of MIrth, not for the age of railroads and steel but of hedge funds and overnight fortunes, of scorched-earth successes and abiding moral failures. A brilliant portrait of love, betrayal, fate and chance, Mrs. marries razor-sharp social critique and page-turning propulsion into an unforgettable tapestry of the way we live in the 21st Century.”

My Thoughts: The fundamental flaw in Caitlin Macy‘s novel, Mrs., is that she assumes readers are going to care about the über-wealthy New York socialites with their nannies, multi-million dollar apartments complete with doormen, and places for their children among the toniest private preschools in the city. I do not see this happening. In fact, given the fervor over the recent tax changes and the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots, I see the exact opposite occurring. It is difficult to feel sorry for or find empathy for the social elite and their scandals when so many others in the world are struggling to put food on the table.

This is not to mention that pretty much every character within the novel is fairly despicable. In the scenes that take place in front of the school and among the various other interactions of the parents, the story does call to mind Big Little Lies, except the women and men in Ms. Macy’s care even less about their children and more about how the world perceives them. They are pretentious, self-obsessed, and completely oblivious to the real world. We are supposed to fall under the spell of Phillipa’s mysterious confidence and take pity on her past. We are supposed to empathize with Minnie as she attempts to break into this new social circle. We are supposed to see ourselves in Gwen as the most “normal” mother of the bunch. Except we don’t because there is nothing to connect these characters with the readers.

Philippa remains aloof and untouchable even once we know her most sacred and shameful secret. Minnie remains a social climber, anxious to make it into the top milieu and stay there. As for Gwen, while other readers might find her wholesomeness and the sacrifices made for the sake of her family admirable, I could not do so. I got a kick out of the fact that she was the only mother to actually cook real meals for her family, but there is a forcefulness behind her domesticity that is bothersome.. It is as if Ms. Macy needed someone to whom readers would relate and created Gwen to fit that mold, except she missed out on one crucial detail. The reasons for Gwen becoming and remaining a stay-at-home mother never ring true. Neither does she provide an adequate explanation given how much time Gwen spends reminiscing about and longing for her former career. Ms. Macy spends little time explaining why Gwen gives up her beloved job and practically no time explaining why she continues to remain home. All of the reasons mothers stay home do not apply to Gwen’s situation, so it makes no sense and is yet another black spot within the story.

Another element that disconnects the readers from the story is the criminal investigation over which Gwen’s husband obsesses. The story occurs just after one of the numerous investing scandals of the early 2000s. The husbands and fathers of the novel are mostly men involved in the investing business. Considering the recession that occurred after these scandals hit the front pages, it is difficult to find sympathy with anyone who earns their money in that field. To make things worse, Ms. Macy constructs her novel in such a manner that assumes readers understand the ins and outs of the world of trading, so there is little explanation to help readers understand what is illegal about certain transactions or why. The obscene amounts of money made by these traders and the lifestyle they afford sets them apart from everyday readers and is a tiny bit disgusting given how many people lost their homes and livelihoods as a result of the investing scandals.

Mrs. may be social critique but it is social critique of the one-percenters. Frankly, it is difficult to get upset about these so-called social elite tearing themselves apart over a scandal or three. Moreover, the subject of class and privilege is too divisive right now for her story to be in step with the times. This is not escapist literature, as one cannot escape to such a back-stabbing, false world of gossip, innuendo, and mimicry. It is a heavy novel, with topics that are anything but light. Neither is it amusing because the fact remains there is a social strata that lives this way. Mrs. is the type of novel that would be more successful were the country in the midst of an economic boom and political harmony. As it stands, it is the wrong story for the wrong time, and each page is a reminder of the great divide that separates us more every day.

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