At the March meeting, Karen suggested we all try The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus: A Novel About Marriage, Motherhood, and Mayhem by Sonya Sones. She had just turned in this review to Library Journal on the book:
Sones, Sonya. The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus: A Novel About Marriage, Motherhood and Mayhem. Harper: HarperCollins.Apr. 2011. c.416p. ISBN 9780062024671. pap. $13.99. F In her first adult novel, an ode to the sandwich generation, Sones employs the same light, free-verse style that has made her young adult titles (Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy; One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies) so popular. Dodging her book editor’s calls, newly menopausal Holly finds no pleasant distraction in focusing on her family—a hospitalized mother suffering from ’roid rage and dementia, an only daughter going away to college, and a husband idling at his own midlife crossroads. Readers will smile when they see the “but” coming in a poem that begins, “My husband has many fine qualities” and sigh when Holly describes the ache she feels watching a young neighbor playing with her toddler. Somewhere between Nora Ephron and Jennifer Weiner, Sones recounts the little ouches of aging with a perfect blend of wit and tenderness.VERDICT This is what chick lit should want to be when it grows up—wise, funny, and blunt.—Karen Kleckner, Deerfield P.L., ILThis book is exactly as advertised. Holly tells us her story, both her present situation with a daughter about to go off to college, a husband who is keeping a secret, and a sick mother thousands of miles away, and her thoughts about how she got to this point. Her nostalgic looks back at her daughter's childhood were especially moving for me personally.
Holly's voice alternates between humorous, touching, annoyed, angry, frustrated, joyous, and thankful. She is the reason to read this book. Her emotions feel real, her reactions true, and her insight down-to-earth
The verse is not as obtrusive as one would think. We open with Holly's 50th birthday around the corner and the realization that menopause has come. The short poems capture her feelings perfectly. Sones uses some poems to move Holly's story forward and others look at the issues of the sandwich generation in greater detail. So while one poem may be about how much she will miss her daughter, the next may be about her sagging breasts. There will be one about her work followed immediately by one about her mother. The switching back and forth is not distracting, rather, it gives Holly depth. I could feel her inner struggle and the different things vying for her attention. I did not need pages of character development to understand Holly. Her poems, and the order in which Sones placed them, did the heavy lifting of the character development here.
Due to the verse style, this is also a quick read. I raced through the book telling myself I would just read one more poem, but then 45-60 seconds later I thought, just one more, and again...you get the point. This would be a great summer read for any mom, whether they are living Holly's life right now, or will be someday.
Three Words That Describe This Book: novel-in-verse, humorous, touching
Where This Book Took Me (summer reading feature): to a peek into what my life may be like in 12-14 years.
Readalikes: I like Karen's description that this book fits in somewhere between Jennifer Weiner and Nora Ephron. The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is a Women's Lives book in the truest sense. It explores the choices and situations which women in America face today as they move from their child bearing and rearing years into their middle age.
Other women's lives books about mature women which are both humorous and touching are The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine (more literary), Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray (more chick lit feel but with an older protagonist), and the Miss Julia series by Ann B. Ross (a cozier story).
Adriana Trigiani is also a great writer of stories of women from all ages and walks of life. Her focus is on families, friends, and their interaction with a great balance between humor and touching scenes. She is just an all out excellent story-teller who will appeal to those who like Sones' work here.
Sones also reminds me of Elizabeth Berg, but with a tad bit more in your face humor (Berg's can be subtle).
If you just liked the whole novel in verse thing, I ran a search in NoveList by clicking on the genre heading in this novel's record called "novels in verse," limited it to "Adult" and "Fiction" and got 31 solid results which included books by the poet and novelist Ana Castillo, who is a great choice for these readers. Try Watercolor Women / Opaque Men: A Novel in Verse or the novel Peel My Love Like an Onion.