Sylvie Serfer Woodruff loves her life as the nurturing wife to her adored Richard, a New York senator. Of course, her mother Selma (former chief judge of New York State) is horrified as she watches her daughter retrieve Richard's breakfast at hotel buffets. Selma once had big ambitions for Sylvie, who happily retired as a lawyer early on to become a political wife and mother to her two daughters, Diana and Lizzie, who are now adults.
Sylvie’s job is not exactly easy, though. For example, the constant public scrutiny makes life difficult. Her body and personality have been sculpted to aid her husband's career. Sylvie herself once spontaneously filled out a school reunion questionnaire regarding her current occupation with "My job is to stay on a diet so that I can fit into size six St. John knit suits and none of the bloggers can say that my behind's getting big" (before deleting her comment). She is constantly uncomfortable due to the garb she must wear, such as pantyhose and high heels. The ongoing dieting and exercise regime is another nuisance. In addition, Sylvie must give speeches, although she detests public speaking. Yet her sacrifices are fine because she adores Richard and wants to support his ultimate ambition: the White House.
Then everything changes. Richard becomes the focus of the media, who have discovered that he has had an affair with a legislative aid. He also procured the young woman a high-paying job in his old law firm. Sylvie watches images of her husband and Joelle, the female stranger (who uncannily resembles a young Sylvie with her original pre-campaign extra pounds and substantial hips and breasts), plastered on every media source. She feels frozen --- and furious. And Sylvie is not at all accustomed to fury.
Richard's much-publicized transgression has far-reaching repercussions for two other women: his grown daughters, whose lives are also impacted. Diana is an emergency room physician who is married to the unattractive Gary and has a son named Milo. Her reaction to the news is tainted by her own secret affair. Meanwhile, everyone is concerned about how Lizzie, the younger daughter, will handle this new stress, given her history of alcohol and drug abuse.
Sylvie reluctantly consents to appear at Richard's side during his televised mea culpa speech, but then flees to her family's beach house. There, she must deal with her sadness, shame and rage --- and face a different future than the one she has long worked for. As a first step, Sylvie heads to the grocery store where she shuns her usual frozen diet meals for real, delicious foods that she must learn how to cook. In spite of Sylvie's circumstances, her story is certainly not entirely downbeat. Humor threads throughout, such as the scene where she confides everything about her husband's affair to a fellow shopper --- who actually only approached her to tell her she had forgotten to turn off her car lights.
Sylvie and her daughters' relationships with each other and others turn ever more complicated and fascinating as all three reinvent their lives. This is a juicy, compelling page-turner as we follow these women in the wake of their family's scandal. Jennifer Weiner continues to give us characters who are true to life and sympathetic, along with gripping plotlines and unexpected twists.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 22, 2011
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