just read: Primates of Park Avenue
so according to my Instagram post, this arrived 5 weeks ago. at that point, i thought i would dive into it and be done in 3 days. not my best showing for getting through a book for sure y’all, but considering this is the first thing in a while that i have actually finished and enjoyed, i’m cutting myself some slack.
i ordered Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin for arrival as soon as it was available from Amazon. after seeing all the fuss it was stirring up pre-release (yay for effective PR!), i just couldn’t resist. early reports painted it alternately as a gossipy view into the private lives of New York’s super rich and a big so what? memoir that had nothing new to say about the culture or the creatures that live inside it.
so which was it? definitely more the latter. it doesn’t name any names, so don’t think you’re opening up a page-turning tell-all by any means. this is much more a story about motherhood and relationships than an exposé of lavish lifestyles. and true, having know a few uber-monied folks over the course of my lifetime, as well as being a pretty avid reader of fiction authors who often write about the very rich from an insider’s perspective (Candace Bushnell, Bret Easton Ellis, Dominick Dunne, Truman Capote, Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, etc.), not much surprised me. maybe it would a less experienced person?
but here are a few things.
first, i don’t think the intention was to shock or reveal unknown customs or behaviors in this world. i believe Ms. Martin truly wanted to convey her experience in trying to gain an understanding of and acceptance in the private club of UES (Upper East Side) mothers she inextricably became a part of when her family moved there from their more down-to-earth existence downtown. what she shares is a really personal journey through moving to a new neighborhood and trying to find her place and way amid a new set of people with their own and different social customs — all while dealing with her own family issues (i won’t spoil it). there were a lot of lows. and many highs as she learned to navigate the waters. life, y’all.
second, that journey is not uncommon, whether you live in New York, Atlanta or BFE, [insert name of fly-over state here]. i believe there was one reference/comparison of NYC/UES to Atlanta in the book — in the same sentence as someplace i have never heard of in Michigan or Missouri or . . . sorry, but not an equal comparator if that was, in fact, the intent. however, aside from being mildly offended by that obvious miss, the fact is that in my little neighborhood on Atlanta’s Westside, i deal with a lot of the same shit. okay, no. nobody is body checking me with her Birkin on the way to Pilates (at least they’d say bless your heart as they did it). but there is definitely a hierarchy of moms in the neighborhood, and in the city. for sure.
there’s a Queen Bee mom in the neighborhood, with whom my status ebbs and flows depending on what company i keep at the pool, what HOA issues we choose to speak out about or what kind of day she’s had, for all i know. i mostly keep my distance. we also have a resident fitness trainer and nutritionist whose cleanses, bone broths and bootcamps everyone seems to be addicted to. and a medspa owner who is giving neighborhood discounts on her services, including Coolsculpting. every late-thirties and forty-something mom other than me, it seems, showed up to the pool this Memorial Day fully bikini ready and flaunting it. both kinds of 6-packs seem to co-exist peacefully in our cocktail-laden BP world. i mean, no pressure. and, while many of us in the ‘hood are trying to support our local public school to make it (and our home values) better, there is no shortage of quiet shock amongst wealthier and international friends we socialize with when they hear we are willfully subjecting our daughter to an Atlanta Public Schools education. then there’s the which camps and extracurriculars are you doing? how religious (or not) are you? (that, i think, comes with living in the South, period.) and a nanny clamor that keeps names and contacts insanely close to the chest for fear that if you give up the info to help someone in a pinch for a date night, they will steal your girl forever.
that list could go on, but i won’t. i work full time. and keep house full time. and this stuff on top of all that is exhausting and crazy-making. truly.
but in the end, somehow, there’s always a neighbor willing to help out when you need them, a friend (or a few) you can confide in and talk honestly about the crazies with and a sense of community that binds us all together (and admits that they buy most of their kids’ clothes at Target, too). toward the end of her story, Ms. Martin comes out with the realization that
Just like mothers in a small town, just like mothers long ago, women on the Upper East Side form tight relational networks that function in part as an emotional support and in part as surrogate child care.
yup. i think the shocking realization would be that is any different in that corner of the world. i might also be a little tweaked about the condescension. become a mom for the first time in any social environment and see how much effort it takes and how much judgement you’re given. and how much support you get, despite your differences.
so finally, there was a lot of talk about the book’s pseudo-anthropological perspective being gimmicky. i thought it was awesome. whatever Ms. Martin’s credentials are, i thought this was a fun way to approach the subject, versus “my life as a Manhattan mom.” bo-ring! all the parallels to both primate cultures and historic and indigenous peoples seem pretty right on and kind of eye-opening to basic human behavior. there’s a whole list of references in the back of the book for anyone who’s interested in fact checking.
all in all? not exactly what i expected, but definitely a good read — engaging, fun and emotional. i think it crosses a lot of lines between fiction and non-fiction, memoir and documentary. Ms. Martin has gotten a lot of criticism, but in my mind, who the hell cares? a good story is a good story. i’m really glad i finally got time at the beach to knock this one out and i highly recommend it for moms everywhere. would love to know whether any of y’all have read it and what you thought!