Monday, February 06, 2017

"When We Fall" by Emily Liebert - Starting Over Is Never Easy

Having recently read Emily Liebert's non-fiction book, "Facebook Fairytales," I decided it was time to check out one of her novels. At the outset, I must disagree with a blurb written by Jane Green about "When We Fall." She called this novel "A fun, insightful read. Liebert is a welcome addition to the world of women's fiction." I would argue that Ms. Liebert's writing goes well beyond the definition of "women's fiction." I am not a reader of "chick lit," and I found this the novel's themes and writing style appealed to this male of a certain age. I cared about the characters, and appreciated the embedded sociological analysis that the writer provided. This is serious fiction that should not be limited to female readers.

The action of "When We Fall" is set in a fictitious suburb of New York City. it could be any of the tony towns in Westchester or Fairfield Counties - Westport, Greenwich, Darien, Scarsdale, Chappaqua. The denizens of this privileged burg are people we easily recognize - well-heeled, fashionable, ambitious, catty and flawed in ways that make a novelist lick her chops and sharpen her claws.

Having lived for many years in New York City, Allison Parker has lost her husband and moved back to her childhood hometown with her son to try to start a new life. She begins to form a friendship with Charlotte, who confesses to having some serious problems in her marriage, and struggles with a complicated relationship with her wayward sister. Things get complicated, with Allison caught in the middle between Charlotte and her husband, Charlie. Allison's late husband and Charlie had been best friends in summer camp, and Charlie feels the need to take Allison under his wing now that she is a needy widow.  Sabrina is the village gossip and agent provocateur, and she finds insidious ways to plant seeds of distrust and doubt in the mind of Charlotte about the friendship that is developing between Allison and Charlie.  Things get ugly and interesting as those seeds sprout and take root.

In offering an incisive look at the machinations of small town New England politics and relationships, Ms. Liebert has concocted a fascinating and delicious tale. The book reads like a mash-up of "The Stepford Wives" meets Sondheim's "Ladies Who Lunch," with a nod to John Updike's sensational "Couples" from fifty years ago. In that novel, Updike turned his home town of Ipswich, Massachusetts into the fictional town of Tarbox, and exposed the lives of the unhappy suburbanites who populated the place. Emily Liebert has done something similar. She writes with a vibrancy that captures a strong sense of place. I was able to close my eyes and picture places I know well that are just like the Wincourt Diner or the cozy art gallery where Allison's work was on display. The author also uses a laser wit and an acerbic voice to poke fun at the superficial ethos that exists among the occupants of these enclaves where Birkin bags and Manolo Blahnik shoes are de rigeur. Here is a wonderful quotation drawn from a scene in which the big charity auction for the town's school is underway, with Charlotte having replaced Sabrina in the prestigious role of chairperson: "After all, in this group, where would philanthropy be without fashion?"

Having been drawn in by the author's style and substance, I look forward to exploring more of her fiction in the near future.



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