Judith Newman's memoir of becoming a first-time mother of twins in her early forties is more than light reading, but much less than it could have been. Newman writes well, she's funny and, yes, she's honest, but SELECTIVELY honest -- for one thing, how does a freelance writer, even for top-shelf magazines and newspapers, come by those tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars she almost casually strews everywhere in pursuit of Manhattan real estate, nannies, baby clothes and all the other accoutrements of modern living? You get the feeling that there is a lot she's not telling you.
Newman, a dyed-in-the-wool urban sophisticate who moves easily among Manhattan's media elite, is good at what she does and is nobody's fool. She is well trained to see all glasses as half-empty, and this is one media professional who turns a gimlet eye on the media; parents' magazines, kids' TV (save for 'Sesame Street' and 'Mister Rogers'), and even 'Goodnight Moon' come in for a pasting. Would that her critical judgment was as finely honed where her personal life is concerned. This book, amusing and a page-turner though it is, turns into a classic illustration of Smart Women, Foolish Choices. By the end of the book, you wonder why on earth she's stayed with her superannuated, selfish jerk of a husband (one wonders what his reaction was when he read his wife's extremely unflattering depiction of him, that is, if he bothered to read the book at all), not to mention the controlling Jamaican nanny (whose sister she hired for the twins' first three months at $250 a DAY -- do the math!), not to mention her judgment in keeping a golden retriever in a cramped Manhattan apartment, even after the twins were born. Then again, perhaps Newman and her husband are more compatible than even she likes to admit -- her fundamentally self-indulgent nature comes through on every page.
Paradoxically, Newman, while she ably satirizes the schadenfreude-filled, absurdly competitive, ridiculously expensive lives of her peers, is unable to avoid falling into the same traps herself. This limits the sympathy you feel for her, even as it increases the sympathy you feel for her two boys (by far the most affectionately drawn individuals in the book).
The diary format, which divides the 306-page book into easily digestible little clumps, is reader-friendly but ultimately limiting. There is no real conclusion; instead, it just limps to a close arbitrarily (publishers' deadlines, you know). You lament that she's still with her frequently absent husband, with THAT nanny, even still waiting for the renovation of her 'extra' apartment to be completed.
As a recent first-time father of twins, I find the ring of the familiar in much of what Newman writes of her children. However, most of America, let alone the world, lives in a far different reality than the author of this book, who has confirmed for me, once again, that the people who live in Manhattan are among the most screwed-up folk on the face of the earth. (As a native New Yorker, I'm entitled to say this.)