In Five Years, by Rebecca Serle

2020 calendar

In Five Years has been hyped by multiple on-line sites and news outlets as one of the buzzy books of Spring, 2020. I ordered a copy frombookshop.org (which delivers books AND supports local bookstores at the same time) with a couple of other buzzy books. In Five Years is short, only 251 pages, and breezes right along so I read it first.

Danger: SNARK ahead. This is probably the snarkiest review I’ve ever posted. Generally I don’t post about books I don’t like. But this one is getting so much positive buzz, I can’t in good conscience let another person (of my sensibilities) spend their money on it. It may very well suit you.

I do however recommend you order any number of other delightful books from bookshop.org or your local book dealer who, like Joseph-Beth Lexington https://www.josephbeth.com and MacIntosh Books and Paper Sanibel Island http://www.macintoshbooks.com, is probably shipping or delivering books curb-side. I’ll highlight some favorites at the end of this review.

It’s 2020 and Dannie Kohan is living large as a Manhattan (naturally) lawyer engaged to a great guy . (Of course) Maybe my aggravation is that they are millennials? And eat avocado toast? (Just wondering if life ever happens anywhere else in the world? Only Manhattan and London? Is that just me?)

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Anyway, Serle’s novel begins with Dannie’s recitation of numbers.

Twenty-five. That’s the number I count to every morning before I even open my eyes. . . .

Thirty-six. That’s how many minutes it takes me to brush my teeth, shower, and put on face toner, serum, cream, makeup, and a suit for work. If I wash my hair, it’s forty-three.

Eighteen. That’s the walk to work in minutes from our Murray Hill apartment to East Forty-Seventh Street, where the law offices of Sutter, Boys and Barn are located.

Twenty-four. That’s how many months I believe you should be dating someone before you move in with them.

Twenty-eight. The right age to get engaged.

Thirty. The right age to get married.

With all these numbers and the interior book copy proclaiming that Dannie “lives her life by the numbers,” you’d expect Dannie to be a bit more OCD about numbers throughout the rest of the book, wouldn’t you? You would be mistaken. That’s it folks for the numerology. Which is fine — I just don’t understand why the focus on it on the first page when you aren’t going to carry that trait through the novel.

So . . . in Chapter 2, it is 2020. Dannie is twenty-eight. She gets engaged to David, her nice financial planning boyfriend, who chooses the perfect cushion-cut diamond “flanked by two triangular stones in a simple platinum band” (naturally) and presents it to her after a stunningly elaborate and expensive meal at the Rainbow Room, now closed to the

rainbow

The Rainbow Room

public. But David’s firm has access to reservations (naturally) which the rest of the world can’t get. Bella, Dannie’s beautiful, bounteous, blonde, rich, “zaftig,” Skiksa best friend, (are all gorgeous, blonde, best friends named Bella? Is that just me again?) helped to choose the ring. Dannie says yes. 

Two hours after dinner, Dannie falls asleep on her sofa back at home with David. But when she wakes …

I am in Dumbo; I must be. Did David take me to a hotel? . . .

The apartment isn’t giant, but it gives the illusion of space. Two blue velvet chairs sit necking in front of a glass-and-steel coffee table. An orange dresser perches at the foot of the bed, and colorful Persian rugs make the open space feel cozy, if not a little cluttered. . . .

Where the hell am I?

I hear him before I see him. He calls: “Are you awake?” . . .

The well-dressed stranger comes over to me, and I leap onto the other side of the bed, by the windows.

“Hey,” he says, “are you okay?”

“No!” I say. “No, I’m not.” . . .

And that’s when I catch the TV. It has been on this whole time, the volume low. It’s hanging on the wall opposite the bed and it’s playing the news. On the screen is a small graphic with the date and time: December 15, 2025.

And there you have it. The big hook of the novel. Well, shortly followed by this:

His face hovers close. Here we go, he’s going to kiss me. Am I going to let him? I think about it, about David, and about this Aaron’s muscled arms. But before I can weigh the pros and cons and come to a solid conclusion, his lips are on mine.

. . . Slowly, and then all at once, I forget where I am. All I’m aware of are Aaron’s arms wrapped tightly around me.

The novel progresses (naturally) over the next five years as Dannie gets the job of her childhood dreams at a THE Mergers & Acquisitions LAWFIRM in MANHATTAN, doing deals 80 hours a week for VERY IMPORTANT CLIENTS while having quaint weekend dinners in Greenwich Village bistros with her fiancee and splendiferous weekend brunches with her best friend Bella and late night dinners brought home by her dedicated fiancee. (while wearing great designer clothes.) (and not ever gaining weight.) (due to all that NYC walking, I suppose.)

Here’s my big problem with the novel told in the best way I can figure to spell it out without giving away the entire plot: the promise the author made in the beginning of the novel was not kept. Whatever expectation you may have about how this romantic comedy-in-waiting will resolve is not what happens. Not only that — but the ending explanation of the flash-forward completely subverts the written intention of the initial scene. Frankly, dear reader, it irritated me.

If you’d like some other recommendations for good reads, take a look at the chronicles of daeandwrite@wordpress.com. Some that I haven’t yet reviewed include: Exposure by Helen Dunmore, Writers & Lovers by Lily King, Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson, The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. And my debut novel, After the Race, is available at all the outlets listed above as well as rabbithousepress.com,

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If your book club does choose In Five Years, there is a veritable feast of meals from which to choose, including:

Pasta with pesto made by Aaron on the night of December 15, 2025

Bagels with whitefish (PLEASE KEEP THIS AWAY FROM ME), Dannie’s choice of victory breakfast

The engagement meal from the Rainbow Room: a simple salad, lobster, champagne, chocolate soufflé.

BUVETTE+STOREFRONT

Buvette New York

Brunch with Bella at “Buvette, a tiny French cafe in the West Village we’ve been going to for years” (naturally): eggs and caviar on crispy French bread, avocado toast, a plate of delicate crepes dusted with powdered sugar.https://ilovebuvette.com/#global

 

 

If I were planning this book club, I’d serve champagne, scrambled eggs and caviar on toast points, avocado toast, and I’d attempt a chocolate soufflé’.

MUSIC

For such a New York-y book, Sinatra seems a natural. Or Billy Joel. Of course, when David and Dannie dance at the Rainbow Room right before they are engaged, the band is playing “It Had to be You.” (NATURALLY) My favorite version of this song is by Southerner Harry Connick, Jr.

MOVIE

Inevitably, this will be made into a movie.

Dannie          Daisy Ridley

Bella              Dakota Fanning

David            Adam Driver

Aaron            Alex Pettyfer

Happy Reading! Stay safe and distant but social.

P.S. Are you having virtual book clubs? What are you doing? I’d love to hear about it. Drop me a line and let me know.

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen

lbd doll

The power of the little black dress. “Invented” by Coco Chanel, that close-to-perfection black dress hangs in every woman’s closet along with her best black heels and strand of pearls. In Jane Rosen’s novel Nine Women, One Dress the LBD is elevated to perfection: this one dress introduces true love, banishes gold diggers, inspires burkha’ed teenagers, hides a celebrity and does all but banish the Wicked Witch of the West.

I listened to Nine Women, One Dress on audio tape and candidly, must to admit not much liking it. Generally, I avoid featuring books on daeandwrite.wordpress.com that I dislike, but the reviews for Nine Women, One Dress are so over-the-top fabulous, I wanted to write about it and hope that some of my readers will tell me what I missed. Maybe it was the audio?

Seriously, here are some of the reviews: Rosen book

Rosen’s debut novel is rich in relationships, written with clarity and humor and surprise twists that bring the tale to a satisfying conclusion. A pure pleasure to read. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jane-l-rosen/nine-women-one-dress/

This is a fun book, tightly plotted and perfectly timed for the summer season. http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-385-54140-4 

Rosen deftly peels back the layers and reveals the lives that inhabit the skyscrapers, brownstones, the department stores, hotels, and parks. Most of the time, it’s not pretty out there, and when it appears perfect on the surface, there is always, always, a story worth tellinghttp://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/reviews/a6422/nine-women-one-dress-jane-rosen/

First-time author Jane Rosen is a screenwriter and Huffington Post contributor according to her bio. She’s represented by a big-time literary agent, Alexandra Machinist at ICM Partners. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: I’m just trying to crack the code.

dressesNine Women, One Dress is a series of monologues of lives sewn together (see how I did that?) by their connection to one little black dress. As in one piece of fabric dress; not the same style dress owned by nine different people. This is like the traveling pants or King Arthur’s Excalibur. BE IT PROCLAIMED: SHE WHO PULLS THIS DRESS FROM THE RACK SHALL FORTHWITH GO FORTH AND HAVE INTERESTING EXPERIENCES. Along those lines.

And here’s another thing: listening to Nine Women, One Dress was like a six hour Bloomingdale’s ad. Love Bloomies. Love dresses. Love LBDs. Love books. Just sayin — the dress at issue comes from Bloomingdale’s and returns to Bloomingdale’s and the sales woman at Bloomingdale’s falls in love and the other sales woman at Bloomingdale’s maneuvers a couple into falling in love and a young woman hides out at Bloomingdale’s to wear Bloomingdale’s clothes and try Bloomingdale’s products  and take photos of herself in front of Bloomingdale’s displays. And sew on.

And another thing: Nine Women, One Dress opens with a prologue monologue from the point of view of an Alabama beauty queen turned runway model. Here’s a taste:vogue

“Every year there’s one dress,” she explained. “The front row people out there they choose it. See ’em?” She pointed to where two cavernous curtains met. . . . “Come fall those front row people are gonna put that dress on the covers of magazines, on red carpets, and in store windows. And it’s usually little and black, like yours.”

Her voice near bout erased her beauty. She was like one of those silent film stars my grandma used to go on about who went bust the day the talkies came out. She sounded so foreign to me. I reckon if I spoke with my southern drawl she would feel the same way about me.

I’ll just leave that there.

Nine Women, One Dress reminded me of Being Audrey Hepburn by Mitchell Kriegman, another book about an iconic dress that didn’t read as well as the idea of the novel sounded.

Are you reading it? Have you? What did you think?

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Classic New York because I don’t remember any or much food in the book.

Bagels are definitely mentioned.

New York-style pizza

Big pretzels with mustard

MUSIC

It would be easy to go all-Frank Sinatra. Or you could do a New York mix. Or — from fashionable Marie Claire magazine — a playlist of songs about fashion. http://www.marieclaire.com/fashion/a11730/best-songs-about-fashion/

So, I always look forward to having comments from readers but I’m particularly looking forward to hearing your thoughts about Nine Women, One Dress.

Happy Reading!

 

Surviving the Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll

lucky girl

Is Ani, nee TifAni, FaNelli the Luckiest Girl Alive because she’s engaged to the perfect guy, has the perfect job, wears a size zero, dresses from the designer wardrobe closet of a major women’s magazine and hasn’t yet turned 30? Or is Jessica Knoll the luckiest girl alive for transitioning from her own job at Cosmopolitan magazine to the best seller list to film production of her novel by Reese Witherspoon’s company?

I’m voting for Knoll. TifAni, with all her inherent spelling and name jessica knollintrigue, is not only not lucky, she’s not likable enough to want to befriend, and at least at the outset, a little bit too offensive to even want to read about either. Knoll must’ve stolen the luck of several generations of Irish. It couldn’t have hurt that none other than Reese Witherspoon tweeted a copy of the book jacket with this message: “It was the most non-stop nail-biting crazy train of a book with one of the most intriguing characters I have read in a long time!”

Luckiest Girl Alive begins with edgy scenes, language, risky behavior and  with Ani comtemplating stabbing her fiance in the stomach with a bridal registry knife. Along with her self-inflicted name change, Ani’s transformed her-Pennsylvania-self into a chic, New York gad-about-town/sex columnist and BrideZilla wardrobed in designer labels. The book is told completely in first person, which means that you have to either like Ani or be compelled to keep reading about this narcissistic, manipulative woman. Ultimately, you are.

I had six leisurely years to get to where I am now: fiancee in finance, first-name basis with the hostess at Locanda Verde, the latest Chloe hooked over my wrist (not Celine, bur at least I knew better than to parade around a monstrous Louis Vuitton like it was the eighth wonder of the world). Plenty of time to hone my craft. But wedding planning, now that has a much steeper learning curve.

The New York Times book review note on Luckiest Girl Alive commented lucky ladythat “some reviewers have called her the mirror image of Amy Dunne in “Gone Girl,” since Ani seems purely manipulative at the start but becomes more human as the book reveals its secrets.” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/31/books/review/inside-the-list.html?_r=0

Ani has a reason to be the monstrously, social climbing witch that she is, but once I discovered what the loaded asides and clues had been alluding to throughout the novel, I still didn’t like Ani, didn’t have much more compassion for her and wasn’t happy with the plot or character shift. Annie’s traumatic event was transformative only in the sense that she found a way to lose weight consistently.

Bottom line: for me, it was a quick, easy, fun read. But I didn’t like Ani at all. Ever. Once you find out the secret, which I will not disclose here, it will give your book club a toehold for an interesting discussion. How does trauma change people? And what could have been done to prevent the situation? It is particularly relevant to today’s society. So I would encourage you to read.

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Ani has an eating disorder. “I loved the evenings Luke had clients to entertain. I’d come home with two plastic bags filled with the neighborhood bodega’s finest carbs, devour every last starchy crumb, and toss the evidence down the garbage chute, Luke none the wiser.”

Nevertheless, there are some good food references in Luckiest Girl Alive.

Swedish Fish

From the caterer’s tasting menu:

Prosecco

Lobster mac and cheese bites

Mini lobster rolls

Wasabi steak tips

Tuna tartare

Gruyere bruschetta

An oyster bar

A sushi bar

Antipasto bar

MUSIC

I’d do a New York playlist:

New York State of Mind, Billy Joel

I and Love and You, The Avett Brothers

Arthur’s Theme, Christopher Cross

Living for the City, Stevie Wonder

Empire State of Mind, Jay-Z & Alicia Keys

New York Minute, Don Henley

MOVIE CASTING

Ani — Rooney Mara

Luke — Scott Eastwood

Nell — Amanda Seyfried

Arthur — Rico Rodriguez

 

Happy Reading!
Luckiest-Girl-Alive

 
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Growing Up: Saint Monkey by Jacinda Townsend

monkeys

I’m not sure why Saint Monkey is the title of Jacinda Townsend’s debut novel about two girls coming of age in 1950’s small Southern town other than it is catchy and an infrequent-nickname for one of the characters. Then again, I’m not sure I could come up with any better title for this insightful, aching look at friendship and anti-friendship, first loves, ruined love, passion and disdain, achievement and disappointment. Perhaps Saint Monkey as a title is just amorphous enough to contain a hint of the contents of this Pandora’s box of a book.

Audrey and Caroline live across the street from one another in racially-divided Mt. Sterling, Kentucky. Both have dreams of leaving the dirt road on which they live far behind. Audrey’s talented father is gone and her mother is mostly absent but Audrey is able to both lose and find herself in her music.

Caroline, aka Pookie, the Saint Monkey of the title, loses both of her parents early in the novel to a horrible situation. She then becomes the de facto mother of her sister and seeks her own way out by romancing the lean, hungry teen-age boys who inhabit her world.

miles davisAs Audrey moves into the New York City jazz world, the two maintain a correspondence that threatens to erode Caroline’s already-struggling self.

Townsend’s poetic prose expresses the dreamy yearnings of what it is to be a small town girl with big city dreams.

Still, my granddaddy built me this porch swing the week after my daddy died, not because he thought I was grieving, but because he meant to keep me amused.  “Keep Audrey occupied,” he told people.  “Keep her around the house with her dress down and her bloomers up.”  Since my daddy died, Grandpap has begun to see me as a dry leaf in freefall, a wasted petal about to be crunched under a man’s foot.  He wants me to forget all the boys of Montgomery County and take studies in typing, to let go the idea of marrying a town sweetheart and become, instead, a woman of the city in a store-bought dress and nylons, with my own bedboard and bankbook.  I’m supposed to fly and dream about all that, sitting here in this swing.  He painted it white, whiter even than the side of this house, whose thin coat is peeling to expose the aged black wood underneath.  He painted the wood slats of this swing so white that when you stare at them for a time, they seem blue.  Swing high, and the porch ceiling creaks where he riveted the screws: the grown people who walk by warn me.  “Hey gal, it ain’t a playground swing,” they say.  For them, for their limitations, I stop pumping my legs, and the creaking stops.  But when they’ve faded down the walk, I fly high again.

In her review for the New York Times, Ayana Mathis compares Saint Monkey to the classic American novel by Zora Neale Hurston. “Caroline’s yearning recalls Janie, the young heroine of “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” lying one afternoon under a blossoming pear tree, overwhelmed by sensuality and possibility and driven toward the fulfillment of what she senses life might offer. That Janie’s life does not go as well as she hopes, that it does in fact take a tragic turn, does not eclipse her capacity for joy or hope.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/books/review/saint-monkey-by-jacinda-townsend.html?_r=0

Saint Monkey won the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Historical Fiction awarded by the Society of American Historians in 2015.

Saint Monkey is a luminous and compelling novel that shines a bright light on neglected corners of the American past. The book brings to life a small Black community in the hardscrabble country of eastern Kentucky, a place in many ways a borderland: between the industrial future and the agricultural past, between the urban north and the Jim Crow South, and between the seeming complaisance of the 1950s and the seismic upheavals of the 1960s. Audrey Martin and Caroline (“Pookie”) Wallace, Townsend’s marvelous protagonists, reveal worlds of hope and hurt through their barbed, intense friendship. Her profoundly unsettling and profoundly humane vision—of ordinary Black women struggling to achieve safety and authenticity in the face of the extraordinary ruptures and insecurities that have for centuries beset Black lives in the Americas—is essential for our understanding not only of the African American experience but also of American history in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

https://sah.columbia.edu/content/prizes/james-fenimore-cooper-prize/2015-jacinda-townsend-saint-monkey-ww-norton

52ndstreetNYer
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I had the pleasure of meeting author Jacinda Townsend during the Kentucky Women Writers Conference in September and she was gracious enough to share a recipe with me. She calls it her “nasty” casserole and says it is “straight from the 1950s. My kids complain but they love it.”

1 package (16 ounces) frozen peas, thawed 1 package (16 ounces) frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained 1/2 package Velveta 3/4 cup milk 1 full sleeve of crackers 1/4 cup butter Add to Shopping List Directions 1 Pour milk into a crockpot or cheese melter; cut Velveta block into cubes and place into crockpot to melt. 2 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 3 Bring peas and broccoli to a boil. 4 Melt butter in a saucepan; crumble crackers into melted butter and saute. 5 Put cooled peas and broccoli into a greased 2-qt. baking dish. Sprinkle crumbled crackers on top. 6 Pour melted Velveta and milk mixture over casserole until it is evenly covered. 7 Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 12-17 minutes or until bubbly. Yield: 4-6 servings.

MUSICSaint Monkey cover

Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk at Carnegie Hall would be a great one. //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=daeandwritewo-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B000TETIC8&asins=B000TETIC8&linkId=RYLNSBUK6DC4TB6V&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true

Happy Reading!

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