Single in Suburbia (2006)
Author: Wendy Wax
Genre: Romance (Contemporary)
When, after 18 years of marriage, her husband Rob has a midlife crisis and suddenly leaves her for a young, blonde bombshell named Tiffany, Amanda Sheridan finds herself surprisingly alone as she struggles to hold onto what is left of her suburban family life. While her two children, Wyatt and Meghan, come to grips with a crumbling home life, Amanda slowly begins to question her place in the tony East Cobb suburbs of Atlanta (not to mention being the latest gossip at the Little League baseball fields). Seemingly distraught and feeling like a social pariah, Amanda soon befriends two unlikely suburban transplants, themselves the talk of the neighborhood. Candace (don't call me Candy!) Sugarman, triple divorcee with a penchant for Prada (and dating the Little League coach, Dan Donovan), and Brooke Mackenzie, whose poor upbringing has been cloaked by an MBA and a wealthy older husband, are serendipitously drawn together at the ballpark (each the object of cold stares and frequent whispers). The three soon find themselves fast (though, unlikely) friends, with Candace and Brooke vowing to help Amanda with her new and increasingly desperate situation. Encouraged by a night of margaritas and a new found sense of determination, Amanda hires Candace's divorce attorney (Anne Justiss), only to find out that Rob has squandered the family finances and Amanda is now high and dry. Distraught and nearly penniless (and a pledge to save her home for her children), Amanda turns to the one thing she feels her skills are worthy (not to mention the most lucrative venture she feels confident of succeeding): cleaning houses. Drawing from her college theatre days (and putting that year abroad in France to good use), she takes on the persona of Solange de Papillon, suburban French maid. As business picks up and Amanda/Solange has more work than even she can manage alone, Candace and Brooke are enlisted as Maid for You's latest recruits (and newest French maids), Simone and Chanel. But, when Amanda finds herself cleaning the house of the neighborhood hunk and consummate family man, former professional baseball player Hunter James, she finds herself at great odds with her dual existence, not to mention the snooty housewife who seems to be setting her up for a great fall. SPOILER: With her housekeeping business in full swing, Amanda has a series of run-ins with Hunter James (beginning with their first chance meeting while in line at a grocery store as Amanda proceeded to purchase all of the condoms the store possessed in a drunken attempt at revenge -- she later tied all 350 condoms to a tree outside of her husband Rob's new apartment) before the spark that exists between them is allowed to fully burn, after which Hunter mysteriously disappears. As Amanda and Hunter become friendlier, Brooke's own misgivings about her past resurface and she ultimately reconciles her own dual existence, revealing her shamed past (and that of her own mother, a lifelong housekeeper) to her husband Hap and developing a stronger bond with her stepson. Candace, herself no stranger to conflict, must stand up to a domineering mother to save the one relationship she has found to work (Dan, for his part, encourages Candace's latent self-reliance and in an interesting turn, not only proposes marriage but finds that she is unexpectedly pregnant with his child). The ultimate downfall for the trio, however, turns out to be at the hands of suburban mom, Susie Simmons, who despite a series of unsuccessful traps to ensnare the maids, accuses them of theft and the four wind up in jail (and fodder for the local news media). As Amanda, Candace, and Brooke fight to save their reputation (Susie has, in actuality, knowingly made a false accusation of theft because she needed the insurance money -- it turns out that she did not do as well in her divorce settlement as everyone believed), Hunter James reappears (a simple misunderstanding, he was called away on a baseball scouting trip) and Amanda's life is finally on track to the happiness she so determinedly seeks.
Geographical Setting: Metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Time Period: Contemporary (2006)
As might be obvious, Single in Suburbia displays a lighthearted, romantic tone, at once contemporary and evocative, while maintaining a heartwarming feel. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments along the way (the long sought after, intimate rendezvous between Amanda and Hunter is both sensual and hysterical in its "could happen to anyone" style, especially as Hunter is condomless and rushes out to find the nearest 24-hour dispensary, promising to reinvigorate the mood upon his return) without sacrificing the emotional underpinnings of what is, after all, a love story with a happy ending. It is at times nostalgic (Amanda yearns for her carefree college past, while enduring the reality of her present situation) and philosophical, but framed in an evocative yet light and satisfying style. At the story's heart, then, is the romantic relationship (and the progression thereof) between Amanda and Hunter. To be certain, secondary characters Candace and Brooke both have competing issues with satisfying resolutions; however, the novel is at times as equally action oriented as it is character centered. While the reader gains keen insight into each of the three main characters (finding Candace becoming as strong as she appears, Brooke overcoming the shame of her upbringing, and Amanda finding the courage and fortitude to stand on her own two feet), and the third person narrative occasionally shifts between character storylines, it is in essence a domestic romp with a layered, yet resolved ending (after all, even the most despised characters, such as Susie Simmons, have redemptive qualities towards the book's end. Susie for her part ends up being enlisted by Maid for You for her highly detailed training skills). Author Wax has created a bevy of eccentric and intriguing characters (Candace's arrival at the ballpark equals that of the most enduring runway models during Fashion Week), yet the reader will find each of them familiar and faithful in spirit despite their quirkiness. Though not always drawn with a great level of detail, the characters are vivid and sufficiently well detailed for the overall story arc. Furthermore, the reader is drawn into the wealthy Atlanta suburbs with Wax's colorful descriptions of suburban life. Succinctly, the book is an easily engrossing page turner. Readers will likely find themselves plowing through Single in Suburbia in one sitting. While by no means densely written, its deliberate, breakneck pace adds to the pervasive humor, all in good stead. Chapters are short and fast paced, leaving the reader unable to stop short of the next one. At times flamboyant and conversational, while retaining a candid, colorful style, Wax's penchant for descriptive romantic style effectively describes the characters and sets the romance's mood. With a healthy dose of humor (readers will no doubt find themselves in hysterics as Hunter's dog Fido has a real nose for Amanda, particularly a certain spot on Amanda), the graceful and natural style adds to the book's heartwarming resolution.
Read-alikes: Readers who enjoyed Single in Suburbia's lighthearted, humorous tone and equally action and character centered story line, would certainly be drawn to her other works. 7 Days and 7 Nights finds talk radio hosts Dr. Olivia Moore and Matt Ransom involved in a publicity stunt, where they are locked in an apartment for a week, under the scrutiny of a 24 hour webcam. For readers drawn to eccentric, intriguing characters, pervasive humor and evocative tone, but with an element of mystery, Jane Heller's Cha Cha Cha will likely be an engaging page turner. When wealthy Allison Waxman Koff loses her fortune in the crash of '87 (not to mention her husband), she turns to working as a maid for a vitriolic wealthy woman who ends up murdered, and the mystery begins. Readers who enjoyed the vivid characterization, detached though romantic observations of society life, but prefer a more deliberate pace and literary style, would find Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice a worthy challenge that they will likely want to re-read. One of five daughters eligible for marriage, Elizabeth Bennet must confront societal matchmaking, an insistent mother, and a certain Mr. Darcy who is wise to her machinations in spite of his loftier sense of place. For those readers who found Wax's eccentric, lifelike secondary characters, breakneck pacing, and the overall humorous romp of a book appealing, look no further than Lisa Plumley's Mad About Max. When Max Nolan's lucky suit is rather cheekily donated to charity, Lucy Logan isn't quite willing to give it back without some work, though Max isn't exactly the most willing of volunteers. For quirky, well developed secondary characters, plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and a lighthearted tone, but with a paranormal twist, readers will no doubt enjoy Erin McCarthy's A Date with the Other Side. Haunted house tour leader Shelby Tucker, who herself has never been haunted, is the target of some rambunctious, matchmaking ghosts, intent on setting her up with local malcontent Boston MacNamara, but will the two find their mutual attraction is enough to overcome the fact that they have nothing in common? For readers who enjoyed Wax's depth of characterization, satisfying yet compelling unfolding of story line, and upbeat, nostalgic tone, but prefer more philosophical depth, Jennifer Weiner's In Her Shoes, should prove an entertaining find. When down-on-her-luck Maggie Feller moves in with her successful sister Rose, the sisters' relationship becomes strained, becoming even more complicated when their estranged grandmother reenters their lives.
Red Flags: Moderately explicit sensuality, occasional profanity