Married in the Heights and the 'Burbs

Marriage and long-term relationships can be challenging even when they're good, and keeping them alive and well can be tricky when something new is introduced. The something new in Peter Hedges's (author of What's Eating Gilbert Grape - who knew the movie was based on a book?) latest novel, The Heights, is Anna Brody, the gorgeous, wealthy mother who has just moved into the most exclusive house in Brooklyn Heights. Everyone is infatuated with Anna, but instead of hanging with all of the other rich moms, Anna attaches herself to Kate and Tim, parents of two small boys who live in decidedly less ritzy circumstances than the Range Rover-driving families in the Heights. What's the attraction? Kate thinks it's kind of cool, but also a little weird. Soon their world is turned a bit upside down when Kate, a stay at home mom, goes back to work, and Tim leaves his job as a teacher at a nearby private school to become the primary childcare provider. It turns out that Tim's quite good at it, and Anna begins to ask for more and more help with her small daughter, but is that really all she wants from him? Is there a marital train wreck in the offing? The world of The Heights is so not my milieu, but it was fascinating to catch a glimpse of the place and those who inhabit it.

As anyone who has ever watched Desperate Housewives knows, the suburbs are not always as tranquil as they might seem on the surface. In Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer, a cool breeze is blowing through the New Jersey suburb of Stellar Plains, stirring up trouble between men and women. The women are the only ones who feel it and when they do, they go off men immediately. In marriages, the wives are done with sex; in teenage couples, the breakups are spectacular and nasty; and even the illicit affairs go off the rails. Oddly enough, at the same time this breeze is taking hold, the high school is doing a production of Lysistrata, the Ancient Greek play in which the women refuse to sleep with the men until the men end the Peloponnesian War. What is going on here? Will life ever get back to normal?

Marriage is hard work.  Let's hope that at least a few survive and thrive in our newer novels!