Seven Year Bitch by Jennifer Belle
Author: Jennifer Belle
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Marriage & Parenting / New York City)
Publisher/Publication Date: Riverhead Trade (5/3/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: To my great surprise, I actually liked it (when I wasn't hating on it).
Did I finish?: Yes - very easy to read and get in to.
One-sentence summary: Late '90s-era chick lit heroine is now nearly 40, married and has a kid, but of course it's never happily ever after.
Reading Challenges: None!
Do I like the cover?: Eh -- it matches the hardcover version, so I suppose that's nice, but I'm not wild about it. I'm grateful, at least, it doesn't feature shoes, a super feminine font, those curlicue-style cartoon women, or a metric ton of pink.
First line: As I walked along Waverly Place to meet my friend Joy for dinner, I saw a girl in her twenties leisurely crossing the street, and something about her brought that whole decade of my life back to me.
Were...the passages on hiring a nanny and mother-nanny relationships interesting/horrifying?: YES. Particularly as my wife is nanny to women with Isolde's education and income, some of the things Isolde says/does to her nanny is actually quite familiar.
Do... I wish more of the novel featured the heroine's essay reading gig?: YES. This aspect of the novel had notes of Aimee Bender/Lauren Groff and was amusing and fascinating.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- I'm not sure I'd dig a reread of this book but this is another novel that I think invites great convo and is perfect for lending. Whether you read it as broad comedy or satire on motherhood, it pushes buttons and prompts some grins.
Why did I get this book?: The title -- like a little kid, I love swear words -- and as I'm hitting seven years with my wife, it seemed appropriate!
Review: Say you have friends who seem, to you, to have an awful marriage and are terrible parents, but since it's none of your business, you can't really say anything about their staying together and having more kids. Well, that's a bit what reading this novel is like.
Actually, this book had two feels, really. On one hand, this felt a bit chick lit-y, as if Bridget Jones finally got married and had to face turning 40; on the other hand, this had the kind of quirky tone I associate with Aimee Bender or Lauren Groff. There's not much plot other than the drama heroine Isolde creates, but author Jennifer Belle paints an evocative (and slightly exaggerated) picture of Manhattan-based motherhood and marriage.
My waffling about this book derives from my feelings on Isolde. On one hand, Isolde is deeply empathetic and curious about the world and those in her life (unlike many of her Manhattanite acquaintances); and yet, she's so clueless and so insensitive, it's almost criminal. Maybe I disliked her so strongly because she was ultimately wholly unapologetic about her behavior. I'd think, 'have you no shame?', but perhaps that's not actually a flaw. Her unapologetic, hopeless, best intentioned but irrevocably inappropriate behavior brings her heartache but also allows her to take her life as it is and embrace what is good (a skill I have yet to perfect!).
In the end, I think I felt for Isolde as I might for a casual acquaintance: bemusement in small doses. When I read this book in long stretches, I started to get a big seasick from the repeating up-down bounce of Isolde's emotional roller coaster. There's a sort of vignette-y feel to this novel -- large chunks of time pass without comment -- and so the chapters and characters seemed a bit disconnected to me. The vignette-y feel is further compounded by the dropped plot moments: after a horrifyingly inappropriate obsession with her nanny's fertility challenges, both Belle and Isolde forget about the nanny once she's pregnant; nor are the shocking, credulity-straining, and damaging things her husband does during his son's birthday parties ever addressed or revisited.
I definitely over thought when it came to this novel, for good and for bad, but it certainly inspired conversations with friends on marriage (especially hetero marriage), parenthood, self-identity, and urban living. I'm probably not the target audience but I found this novel unexpectedly entertaining (if not maddening) and that's not a bad thing!
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The publisher has generously offered TWO copies of The Seven Year Bitch to my readers. To enter, leave a comment with an email address. Open to US/CA, ends 7/15.