For those readers who think Chick Lit is all about spoiled, status-conscious Manhattanites, this book will do nothing to dissuade you. Replace the Manolo Blahniks with a kid, and that’s what you’ve got here. Instead of shelling out a small fortune she can’t afford on the latest designer shoes, the heroine shells out a small fortune she can’t afford on karate class, ballet class, yoga class, pottery class, and probably some others I’ve forgotten, for her child. Why? Because she wants to give her daughter the best of everything, of course…and, because it’s just what Manhattan parents do, apparently.
Claire March is newly divorced, and has primary custody of her six-year-old daughter Zoë (her husband took the housekeeper/nanny with him when he left). Raising a child basically alone is incredibly difficult, but it might be a little easier if Claire: a) had a job; b) could get a job that wouldn’t cramp Zoë’s very busy social life; or c) would just move out of Manhattan to a slightly more affordable locale. Okay, choice C is my own editorial comment. Claire is not budging an inch, nor is Zoë doing without anything that might secure her admission to Harvard in ten years – not that Claire could afford that tuition, either. Claire’s parents pay for some of Zoë’s activities and for her private school, although Claire keeps insisting to herself it’s just a loan until she gets on her feet and finds a job.
With a degree in art history but no work experience, it’s a tough job search, until she finally lands a position as a tour guide. It’s hard to find a well-paying job with benefits that only requires you to work weekdays from 9 AM to 3 PM, plus all school holidays off; who knew? But when she has to keep leaving tour groups to go get Zoë from school and birthday parties, she loses the position – which is just so unfair, because those Midwestern granny-types should have more compassion on a single mother with a sick kid! Never mind that they paid for a full tour. Her second position, in a gift shop, earns her the scorn of the Upper West Side mothers of Zoë’s friends (“Claire’s a shopgirl now!”) but at least is closer to something she enjoys, art and jewelry. And it still allows her to devote most of her time to Zoë.
The story is told in first person, by three different people: Claire, Zoë, and Claire’s sister, Mia, who is feeling the maternal urge now that she’s thirty and thinks maybe she should cut back on the one-night-stands and look for a guy with long-term potential. Zoë’s diary entries are very perceptive and literate, for a six-year-old. I think they’re meant to inspire sympathy for Claire, when Zoë observes that she thinks Mommy would be happier if she could buy the expensive new shoes in the window. Zoë understands that Claire could use a little fun herself, even as Claire mistakes being a good mother with sacrificing herself to give Zoë every last little thing the child wants. Mia is interesting if only because she has a life, and at least her maternal urges were in touch with reality; she does think twice about having a baby when Zoë comes to stay with her for a week and leaves her frazzled and spent.
As is probably obvious by now, Claire appeared extremely immature in my eyes. This is somewhat understandable. She got married and pregnant right after high school (minor ick factor: the guy was one of her high school teachers), and went to college while her husband stayed home to watch the baby and made loads of money in his dot-com company. She’s used to having a housekeeper. She’s used to being taken care of. She’s only 25. She still calls her parents Mommy and Daddy. She says she wants to stand on her own two feet, but Claire obviously has no idea, at the beginning of the book, how to do it or what it even means. She seems to think she should have it all: the ritzy uptown Manhattan lifestyle a la Carrie Bradshaw, the flexible but self-supporting job, and still basically be a doting stay-at-home mother who can bake 25 leprechaun cupcakes decorated with gumdrops and ice cream cones for St. Patrick’s Day. If this ain’t fiction, what is?
Things improve a great deal in the latter half. Claire learns some restraint in trying to keep up with the Joneses, and she does start to rein in Zoë, who is just as manipulative as any six-year-old with spoiled friends. Claire finally figures out what she wants to do with her life, for now at least, and she even begins to get a life of her own with a sexy firefighter. Had I not had to finish the book to write this review, though, I would have never read that part. The first half was a D for me, for an immature, clueless heroine who practically set herself afire on the martyr’s alter to give Zoë everything, damn the expense and inconvenience. The second half was a B-, because the heroine grew up, got a clue, and finally established some balance in her life. Bad beginnings are baaaad, though, and in this instance could not be redeemed by a better ending.