Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review: Playdate by Thelma Adams

Stay at home parents are very frequently undervalued in today's society. I know that when I chose to stay at home with my first child (and the subsequent two) I had to defend my choice. And a neighbor actually told his wife, in my hearing, that she was too smart to waste her brain and stay at home with their baby. Either I've chosen better friends or the stigma of staying home to raise children has eased some, at least for mothers, as I don't seem to hear this sort of thing much anymore. It does seem to be in full force still for stay at home dads though and it must be even harder for those men who have had the position thrust upon them instead of choosing it, regardless of how much they might actually enjoy full time at home. Men have long been identified by their job. Cooking meals, keeping house, raising children, doing laundry, and the like do not carry much prestige despite their importance, leading to the marginalization of those who do these tasks. Such is the fate of Lance, one of the main characters in Thelma Adams' new novel Playdate.

Having moved to fulfill his wife Darlene's dream of opening a bigger and better version of her restaurant with an eye to franchising it out in the coming years, Lance cannot find another job as a meteorologist. Instead he throws himself into raising his and Darlene's daughter, being cookie dad for the local Girl Scout troop, and trying to convince his wife that the time is right for them to have another baby. Darlene is ambivalent about the baby idea, swallowed nearly whole by the upcoming launch of the restaurant and her rapacious, womanizing partner Alec. Of course, Lance is not exactly the model husband either, indulging in a tantric sex affair with Wren, coincidentally the wife of Darlene's partner, and protecting his secrets from the forward and conniving babysitter who thinks she can blackmail her own way into Lance's bed.

The backdrop to this circular and scathing look at suburbia is the approaching Santa Ana winds, which are fanning the flames of an out of control fire even as the volatile situation between Lance, Wren, Alec, Darlene, and the babysitter takes unexpected turns, becoming as combustible and dangerous as the fire itself. Not only do marriages hang in the balance but so does the future happiness of the adults and children. Lance has spent a lifetime understanding a father's betrayal since his own father walked out on his family when he was just a child but he still cannot help cheating himself. In the role reversal of traditional expectations that the mother stay home and the father earn the living, Lance is minimized, marginalized, and emasculated. And yet his childhood baggage and adult situation do not make him a particularly sympathetic character. All of the other characters are as short-sighted and selfish as Lance is, leaving the reader to pity only daughter Belle, trapped in a situation not of her own making.

The story itself chronicles a mere three days in the lives of these characters but they turn out to be pivotal days indeed. While the characters aren't necessarily likable, they are sly, entertaining, and often times quite humorous. The tension built slowly and dramatically as the pages passed and the Santa Ana winds blew their fire closer to the hearts of these characters' lives. An incisive look at modern morality, marriage, and job identification making the man (or woman), this novel has the same guilty pleasure feel to it that watching those train wreck reality shows does but it should spawn conversation on deeper issues than they do.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. Anyone who seems to devalue stay-at-home parents is probably just jealous. Whenever I have a day off I spend the whole day pretending I'm a stay-at-home Mom. It is my fantasy, despite the fact that my children are adults and I would basically be staying home with a Pomeranian and a Malti-chihuaha. Nevermind. I love books about the secret lives of parents. Sounds like the ideal gullty pleasure.


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