Unable to find another job in broadcast journalism, Vivi swallows her pride and takes something she feels well beneath her: writing a column incognito about life in suburbia. And since she has no direct experience of life in the suburbs, she tucks her tail and heads home to Atlanta to move in with her widowed sister, niece, and nephew, looking at herself as a stranger in the strange land of their lives, despite her previous lack of interest in her very proper, very southern family. Vivi is so busy trying to hide from the realities of her life she doesn't stop to see what her sister Melanie's life is really like, the daily troubles of life with two fatherless teenagers, the financial worries that are part and parcel of owning a business, especially one like a ballroom dance business, and the loneliness of a single parent who is stretched so thin that she barely has time to breathe much less show an interest in the opposite sex.
Vivi is oblivious to anything not directly impacting her own life, writing her dispatches from the suburbs from a deeply flawed perspective which outrages the suburbanites around her, and hiding her real reason for being home from her sister. And it is only when she starts to feel discomfort in sending up Melanie's life so cavalierly, when she starts to confront her own deeply held prejudices, when she starts to worry about the morality of withholding his impending parenthood from her concerned and caring boyfriend, and when she starts to see the complexities of life all around her that she starts to grow as a character.
Wax has created a wonderfully selfish character who finally grows up, understanding that not only is she not the center of the universe, but that each universe out there is valuable and doesn't deserve mockery. Vivi learns to re-evaluate success and to see that there are many ways to achieve. Like her namesake in Gone With the Wind, Melanie is a sweet, considerate woman who allows Vivi to take advantage of her while hoping that her kindness will eventually help her sister to become a better person. The pace of the plot is perfect with revelations coming at nicely measured intervals so that the reader is never bored. Vivi's eventual exposure was a tad unbelievable, quick, and surprisingly thorough given the scope of all her poking about. But that is a minor complaint about a book that was overall quite enjoyable. Of course, now I'm going to have to go and take the activity magnets off the back of my car so we're not so readily classifiable as Vivi says suburban moms are!
Thanks to Joy at Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting for sending me a review copy of the book.