Waldman, best known for the Mommy Track mysteries, tries a different kind of novel in Love and Other Impossible Pursuits - a tragicomic story of extremely privileged parents and children, set in New York City. Emilia Greenleaf, the book's first person protagonist, lives on the Upper East Side with her husband Jack and - on Wednesdays and every other weekend - with Jack's very precocious five-year-old son William from his first marriage, the marriage Emilia seduced him away from. On the first page Emilia admits to the reader - but never to Jack - that she finds William insufferable. Her patience for him is stretched to the breaking point at the beginning of the novel because Emilia is enduring paroxysms of grief and loss, her infant daughter having died of SIDS three months before the book opens. As is often the case, her grief fuels anger - anger at other mothers whose babies are alive and well, anger at Jack's ex-wife Carolyn who wants to make sure that William is not exposed to any "inappropriate grief" in the house, anger at herself for not being able to go back to work or even to cook for her family. William's suggestion that she sell all the baby stuff on eBay and pronouncement that his mother says the baby wasn't "really a person" because she was only a few days old are too much for Emilia, and she speaks harshly to him knowing she'll be deemed an evil stepmother for doing so.
Emilia feels guilty about breaking up Jack's marriage, guilty about not liking William, guilty for her anger at all and sundry. She has a wry, self-deprecating humor that suffuses the narrative, taking what could be a grim topic and making it often laugh out loud funny.
Waldman lives in California, but the novel shows a detailed knowledge of New York City's upper class parents, with their $700 strollers and urbanbaby.com habit and obsessive worry about getting their children into the kindergartens guaranteed to start the child on the way to Harvard. Emilia has a certain detached amusement in her observations of the frenetic hyper-concern that Carolyn brings to anything related to William that saves her comments from spite and bitchiness.
All the main characters have depth and feel like real people, and all grow through the novel. Anyone who has known a spurned, spiteful divorced woman will recognize Carolyn in the beginning, but she is much more than a caricature, as Emilia discovers over time. William is beautifully drawn - Waldman manages to depict all the annoying characteristics that drive Emmilia crazy while still making him a lovable and amusing little boy that the reader grows increasingly fond of. And Emilia's self-centered focus and immaturity is so well balanced by her self-deprecating humor and her love for Jack that the reader is rooting for her growth and healing rather than feeling like yelling "Grow Up!" at the book.
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits is a quick read, and a fun and funny book. I got it with the Books4Barack fund raiser, but I think it's worth paying for, too.