When I review the novels that I’ve been reading in the last several months, there seems to be a theme of troubled characters and heavy plot lines. I have to admit that when Wendy Wax’s new novel, Magnolia Wednesdays, came my way, I felt a little relieved to be able to escape into a lighter-type of book; getting lost in a soap opera-type of fictional drama was a refreshing change.
At the center of the story is Vivien Armstrong Gray, a forty-one year old accomplished journalist, who finds her life turned upside down following an ultra-embarrassing investigative mishap caught on tape and soon broadcast to the world thanks to YouTube. As surprising as that experience is for her, Vivien is completely unprepared for the changes that take place over the subsequent year. With her career and personal life soon unrecognizable to even herself, she makes some decisions that just may cost her, and teach her, more than she ever could have anticipated.
Vivien’s story is supplemented by a cast of female characters with their own challenges and needs, and the narration gives plentiful time to their tales as well. Common to all the characters is the idea of secrets and the toll they can take on one’s life, as well as the healing that can take place once they are revealed.
My personal favorite subplot involves a satirical look at modern suburban life through the eyes of an outsider- the declarations of affiliations via bumper stickers plastered all over the backs of the SUVs, the lush green lawns displayed throughout the posh neighborhoods during droughts sustained through secret late night waterings, the immersion of parents in the worlds of their children (aka “helicopter parents”), and the Christmas letters dripping with bragging about the latest achievements of the entire family. In these references, I found Wax’s writing to be strongest, conveying a sharp eye and a wit that rang true. Take this passage describing those holiday letters:
“Pretty much none of these letters mentioned children who had ended up in jail, were still living at home because they refused or were unable to get a job, or whose social skills were nonexistent. In these letters only the positive was worth mentioning, nad the more positive the better. Even those couched in humor were designed to make the recipient feel as if their family didn’t quite measure up. They were exercises in one-upmanship cloaked in holiday cheer.”
With a hugely contemporary touch, including references to current pop culture and stories of the day at every turn, this novel felt like it could have been staged as a premium channel series. For me, reading Magnolia Wednesdays felt like watching a romantic comedy- I may have often known what was coming next, but I enjoyed the show all the same.
Getting lost in a book is one of Dawn’s most favorite pastimes. Blogging at my thoughts exactly also makes the top five.