“Relationships are so complicated, and the path strewn with thorns, that everybody struggled somewhere down the line. Early in the dating process. Those rough first years of marriage. Later, when midlife crises and doubts rushed in. Passion waxed and waned across the board, didn’t it? And so many times, people who had dealt with hardships in the relationship at first, grew into mature adults who retained a warm appreciation for each other and their memories—even the challenges—they had shared. Perhaps their initial fiery ardor evaporated over the years, but a tender respect was forged in its place. Though both parties would have to want that. To be willing to work to reinvent their couplehood.”
Welcome to the world of Friday Mornings at Nine, the most cunningly disguised self-help book on planet Earth. But before you run screaming from the bookstore, desperately afraid that someone might actually catch you reading a self-help book, take a moment to soak this in: this novel will drag you in, whether you’re open and willing, kicking and screaming, politely interested, or coolly unmotivated. Read it.
The story circles around three standard chicks that are, unfortunately, irksome in their level of predictability. Calling them “archetypes” might actually be an understatement, and any person who’s ever seen Oprah or watched a few minutes of The View will know exactly who these women are. First up is Bridget, the undervalued, under-appreciated, self-deprecating Mom of three who desperately wants someone to pay attention to her. Bridget needs to hear, “I thinking you’re amazing and value every moment we spend together,” and the person who finally speaks those words is her boss, Dr. Luke. Instantly she is attracted, realizing with unsettling clarity just how bad her marriage has become, how little she gains from being her husband’s wife. Will she leave him? Second is Tamara, the under-worked lawyer’s wife who spends her time fawning over her extensive gardens, fancy home, and sexy neighbor Aaron with whom she enjoys real, stimulating…conversation. Will she cheat on her workaholic husband? Will he even notice? Finally, we meet Jennifer. She is the quintessential ex-career woman who gave up her life at work to become a Mom, work that she used to love, work that she was undeniably talented at doing. Jennifer is tempted by her old flame, the one who always supported her ambition but still managed to be a crushingly toxic presence in her life. Her husband isn’t anything like her ex, and yet she wonders if she’s made the wrong choice. What will she do? Will she be unfaithful? (Here’s a tantalizing hint: Only one of the three women takes the plunge into infidelity…who will it be?)
I have to admit to you all, you fabulous readers you, that I was immediately turned off by these women. So banal, so unsurprising, so 90’s in the seemingly inevitable decision all three have made to leave the full time workforce. But with each page turn, with each brief glimpse into the lives of these lonely females, I found myself more and more captivated by their predicaments. Each marital problem is different than the others but still circles around the same key issue: the lack of solid a relationship with the self. Marilyn Brant, author of According to Jane, spins an engaging story around the concept Polonius described so simply, “To thine own self, be true.” And so, despite my skepticism, I flew through the book and let my annoyance chill out for a while. In fact, I only shrieked in protest during the occasional portrayal of the dieting-binging-dieting-binging cycle of one of the ladies, most especially when she proclaims that she “didn’t have as much willpower as she thought” and proceeds to eat a huge chocolate chip muffin with a side of defeat. Okay, that was aggravating. But beyond those moments, and the few others that smacked of self-imposed victimization, the novel was wonderful. Ms. Brant’s style is charming, full of wit and humor, and she positively brims with quotable advice for couples. Even if your relationship is all sunshine and lollipops, a trip through the lives of these women and their subsequent spouses is an education, and will bring you nothing but good things.
4 out of 5 Stars
Friday Mornings at Nine, by Marilyn Brandt
Kensington Publishing (2010)
Trade paperback (352) pages
Cover image courtesy of Kensington Publishing © 2010; text Shelley DeWees © 2011, Austenprose.com