Primates of Park Avenue
Simon & Schuster, 2015
Adults: Older Teens, Adults
Like an urban Dian Fossey, Wednesday Martin decodes the primate social behaviors of Upper East Side mothers in a brilliantly original and witty memoir about her adventures assimilating into that most secretive and elite tribe.
After marrying a man from the Upper East Side and moving to the neighborhood, Wednesday Martin struggled to fit in. Drawing on her background in anthropology and primatology, she tried looking at her new world through that lens, and suddenly things fell into place. She understood the other mothers' snobbiness at school drop-off when she compared them to olive baboons. Her obsessional quest for a Hermes Birkin handbag made sense when she realized other females wielded them to establish dominance in their troop. And so she analyzed tribal migration patterns, display rituals, physical adornment, mutilation, mating practices, extra-pair copulation, and more. Her conclusions are smart, thought-provoking, and hilariously unexpected.
Every city has its Upper East Side, and in Wednesday's memoir, readers everywhere will recognize the strange cultural codes of powerful social hierarchies and the compelling desire to climb them. They will also see that Upper East Side mothers want the same things for their children that all mothers want: safety, happiness, and success;and not even sky-high penthouses and chauffeured SUVs can protect this ecologically released tribe from the universal experiences of anxiety and loss. When Wednesday's life turns upside down, she learns how deep the bonds of female friendship really are.
Intelligent, funny, and heartfelt, Primates of Park Avenue lifts a veil on a secret, elite world within a world: the exotic, fascinating, and strangely familiar culture of privileged Manhattan motherhood.
Well, this book didn’t fool me. If the author truly didn’t want to be a part of the Park Avenue elite, she never would have moved there, cared about what the other mothers thought, or “gone native.” Wednesday Martin does have a way with words, but this book didn’t grab me. In fact, I almost didn’t finish it. I’m so glad I did, because her experience with her surprise pregnancy was the only substantial part of the book. That was the only section in which I connected with her story. I knew almost everything else in this book already, and it wasn’t told in an interesting way. I would tell readers to skip everything but the Birken Bag section (that was actually interesting) and the unexpected pregnancy section (which was heartbreaking but made the book human.) As far as the rest of the book -- you might as well read Gossip Girl or The Nanny Diaries. At least they’re entertaining.