Screenwriter, novelist and Fire Island resident of Seaview – Jane Rosen – also the author of “Nine Women One Dress,” has given us another multi-character tome, this time trimming down the sisterhood to four.
Eliza Hunt is first in, spreading a scandalous rumor about a rival, giving this reviewer to wonder if Rosen’s Eliza is a nod to Anne Brontë’s same-named character who, competing for a man’s affections, maligns her competitor. Gossip never gets old in storytelling, and Rosen spins it modern by playing out the action not in a manor house of the 1800s but in true 21st century style – On the internet!
And lest you think the rivalry is over a man, you’ll be surprised that the scheming involves the reign of one mom’s parenting forum over another. The battle of The Hudson Valley Ladies’ Message Board (women commiserate over their pelvic floors and the best jogging stroller) and the newer, edgier Valley Girls whose content is “more dirty laundry, less how best to wash it.”
A history of anxiety and agoraphobia has plagued Eliza since high school, and since her twins went off to college, the Hudson Valley Bulletin Board, of which she’s the creator and moderator, is all that sustains her. But she’s feeling blah about the board, same old, same old. She decides she needs an “epic thread,” a juicy piece of news that will amp up the board as well as her life, and show the upstart Valley Girls that they have met their match.
Her news is anything but moderate, rather it’s an anonymous post about a neighbor’s affair with a married man, worrying new mom, Olivia York, that her husband is the woman’s lover; they’ve been having problems of late and he has “two phones.” One for the cheat,” warns a private investigator.
Alison Le, also new to the area, develops a friendship with Jackie – his real name is Jack – and he is the lone single guy on this women-only site. He’s trying to cope with his daughter’s recent menstruation – tampon or pad? How long can Jack keep up the charade? Does their cyber bond turn out to be a thing? At the same time, Amanda Cole, aka Mandy, a D-list actress and Eliza’s childhood friend is back from The Coast after her movie producer husband, too handsy for his own good, is accused of sexual harassment. Meanwhile, Mandy, in a clinch with a revived love interest “thanked God and Norma Kamali for the jumpsuit she was wearing, its chastity-belt-like qualities keeping her from going too far. In a car. In the parking lot of her daughter’s school.”
Secrets, deception, ulterior motives. Welcome to the Bulletin Board! Messing up lives with one hand, smoothing them out with the other, bringing women who barely know each other into a warm, supporting collective.
At its best the story is light and breezy, Rosen’s lively writing moving the story along.
There’s a wacky road chase, sting operation involving cellphones to catch Olivia’s errant husband in the act. Up against the girlfriends he gets more – and less (read the book) – than he bargained for.
Eliza’s panic attacks that send her heart “shaking in her body” strike a serious note in the goings on, but when she hurts herself with a razor, “deliberately cut [her arm] the night before,’’ this reviewer felt flung into a story more intense and complicated than the typically free and easy tale I had been reading. I felt the same way about the “toxic secret that has eaten away at [Eliza] for 30 years,” noxious though it was.
Given that, Rosen deftly ties up the story by once again putting into service the site’s internet message board – the public forum of our time and almost a character in the story. There Eliza reveals her secret, causing an outpouring of sympathy and praise – hundreds of “likes” within hours of posting as well as admiration from her daughter, and a long-awaited acceptance from her mother.
All may be fair in love and war but apparently not in a novel. It seems the members of the UES (Upper East Side) Mommas, a real time 39,000 strong group (with a Facebook page) have banned Rosen from their site (she had been a member). Her offense: mocking their message board in “Eliza Starts a Rumor.” So great was their ire at her infraction, they canceled her virtual book club discussion on their site. And where did I learn all this? On the internet! Where else?
Come on, Mommas, it’s a book! Lighten up! If the travails of being a mom haven’t given you reason enough to laugh at yourselves and see some humor in your lives, you need more than a message board to work out your parenting woes. Hey, maybe the blowback will sell more books for Rosen. Now, that would be a really happy ending!
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