This is about the time of year that a book lover starts searching for those titles that will fill her beach bag, be dragged to the pool, hauled out on the boat and passed around at the playground. Just in time to fill all these requirements of a fun summer read is Jill Kargman’s THE EX-MRS. HEDGEFUND.
Holland Talbott (most people call her Holly) is living a girl’s Manhattanite dream. She is married to Tim “always on a business trip” Talbott, an uber-successful hedgie man whose occupation has afforded them a very comfortable lifestyle on the Upper East Side. After a post-college career of writing in the music industry, she is happily staying at home raising their son Miles, but unlike many of her peers from Miles’s tony private school, she fills her time more with good works and fund-raising and less with scoring the latest Kelly bag. Her best friend is Kiki, the “outsider” who married Tim’s brother and thus was reluctantly allowed entry into the Talbott clan by mother-in-law matriarch Sherry Von Hapsburg Talbott (her daughters-in-law call her Sherry Von; I like to think of her as the Dragonlady).
After several years of marriage, Kiki and Hal Talbott divorce (insert gasp). Unfortunately, in order to give herself the chutzpah to actually leave an obviously failing marriage, Kiki shares an indiscreet kiss that, in addition to the fact that NOBODY divorces in the Talbott family, pretty much ensures her newfound divorcee/pariah status. Kiki and Hal’s marriage was childless, and since she continued working at her successful event-planning business, Kiki deftly moves on and back into the world of singletons, one-nighters and fabulous parties in up-and-coming neighborhoods.
Unable to mourn Kiki’s failed marriage more than the actual bride does, Holly prepares to continue their friendship as ex-sisters-in-law. However, an edict from Sherry Von decrees that Kiki is dead to the family, thus requiring Holly to hide the fact that she is still best buds with Kiki. This is what leads her to hang out with Kiki perusing art galleries in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) where there should be nobody to see them and tattle back to the Talbotts.
But lo and behold! Who do they espy in said far-flung neighborhood but husband Tim. Sucking face. With a model type. In broad daylight. The duo avoids immediate confrontation, instead taking advantage of the fact that Tim is supposed to be in Chicago for another night and fly back to Holly’s beloved apartment where, upon digging through his desk, she finds the proverbial nail in the coffin: a plain manila envelope holding several audio CDs featuring divorce secrets for high net worth men. Against her very last hope that this was a mere dalliance, a mistake of a fling, Holly comes face to face with the fact that Tim is already planning a divorce.
At this point my heart began to sink, knowing that Holly is about to lose everything --- the fortune, the digs, friends, maybe even enduring a bitter custody suit just to maintain nominal visitation with the son she has practically raised single-handedly. I am happy to report that what makes this a good summer read is that it excludes all of the above and concentrates on Holly post-divorce.
This is more a novel about invention and less about intervention. While she has come to this crossroads through no design of her own and quite unexpectedly, Holly (after several required months of inertia) sets out to start a new phase of life of which, considering she’s only 34, there’s still a lot left. With the hilarious Kiki by her side, she begins dating again, and every reader will be able to find at least one episode here with which they can identify. Holly is experimenting not only with men, but also with her authentic self as she learns to finally stop silencing her inner blue-blood voice and let out her real thoughts, feelings and comments. While Holly’s transformation might not be as drastic as, say, something like Working Girl, it is no less lovely and satisfying.
Amidst the basic story, there’s a generous, and wonderful, sprinkling of ’80s references: lots of brand name dropping that means something even to those of us who just window shop at Bluefly.com, and NYC backdrops that will appeal to anyone lucky enough to visit or even live in the Big Apple. Kargman has put together a package of all the elements of my favorite kind of summer read (something a bit lighter, uplifting, good girl makes it even better, throw in some fashion and food), which I like to think of as brain candy: sweet, fulfilling, definitely satisfies a craving and doesn’t leave a trace on the hips.
Reviewed by Jamie Layton on April 27, 2010
The Ex-Mrs. Hedgefund