I never really warmed to Macy's peek into the denizens of Manhattan's Upper West Side or to the characters' struggles to find their own paths. The parents all have children, but like their offspring, they can do no wrong. They form cliques and relying on gossip rather than facts. Gwen Hogan is our cypher to the action that begins in St. Timothy's, an exclusive private school. Implicated in Gwen's solitude is her husband, Don, who works for as a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's office. When ex-model and socialite Philippa Lye turns up at the school with nothing but the coat on her back and the hat on her head, she's befriended by Gwen as well as Ann, Betsy, and Emily--a notorious group of moms quick to jump to conclusions about Philippa's past.
Decades before, Gwen was in the Girl Scouts with Phillipa's younger, plainer sister, Rosemary. Thirty years ago, Gwen spent afternoons playing dress-up at the Lye house. Even then, Gwen thought that Phillipa was a fantasy. Gwen has thought of her over the years and reveled in snippets about Phillipa's success in catalogues and magazine covers and her stint in Japan. Nothing has prepared her for the scrutiny over Phillipa and her billionaire husband's family-owned bank, Skinker Farr, and how the bank has fallen prey to rogue trading.
Taking place in 2009 just after the financial crisis, Macy's novel shows how we never really know people. From the characters' friendships, abuse, and their social networks to the way they balance lives, Macy shows us the complex dynamics of a group of people who "could't be bothered to cut up their own cantaloupe or push a grocery cart down an aisle to stock up for more than a day." While Gwen's life now centers in Mary her young daughter, she still feels a spark of vanity when she thinks of Don, of his drive, iconoclasm, and powers of renouncement: "she was good at creating her own dramatic tension, making her own fun."
Macy is adept at writing this world in all its shifting forms, a dance between those who have money and those who want more of it and those who want to buy a position (thus linking themselves to Phillipa) with those in the background who want to extricate wealth from power, particularly new mother Minnie Curtis, who notes that it's "an amazing coincidence" she has come across Phillipa. Minnie looks forward to trading stories with Philippa. From Gwen's perspective, Minnie certainly doesn't look like a woman who was going to leave her husband. She glows with a contentment that "gutsy, heathen" Gwen never can.
Thus begin the behind-the-scenes maneuverings. As a head of Martin Kerr's firm--a seven billion dollar hedge fund--Minnie's husband, John Curtis, is on the brink courtesy of Don's investigation. For years, Kerr's firm stood impervious to a swelling stream of accusations. Minnie must decide whether to continue to lose herself to the fiscal danger of her husband's shadow or to break away. Despite Minnie's perpetual glow of contentment, beyond the stilettos and the shopping bags, Minnie doesn't seem all that thrilled about the motherhood.
While the crime of insider trading is central to the plot, Gwen, Minnie and Phillipa's attempts to foster social connections give the novel heft. The action centers on Jed Skinker, the scion of the bank, and Don's machinations, paranoid sleuthing that uncovers the web of connections at St Timothy's. Dan is convinced that neither man is not what they seem; he'd once been duped by the Skinker mystique. Gwen's shame, meanwhile, has arrived in her life, an unwanted package in the form of "her quick surprised slide into an urban life." The most sympathetic of all Macy's characters, Gwen is a different kind of heroine: unsentimental, with an unwavering, perceptive voice hiding behind Don's reputation and doing the snooping while he receives the glory; able yet insecure about how to handle the blustery, ego-driven Minnie and Phillipa. Still, Gwen is two or three paces ahead of everyone else. As the story moves forward, it's increasingly obvious that Minnie and John Kerr are playing games with Phillipa and Gwen. She now realizes she's become just as crass as the hoi polloi she swims with. Ironically, Phillipa, in a moment of frankness, opens Gwen's eyes to the vacuous, deceitful nature of the men (and women) around her.
Although Macy is a good storyteller, she struggles to make her characters anything other than irritating. This is a group of self-involved individuals who celebrate money and prestige, as predictable as their fashionable bistros, chic clothes, and imported Labradoodles. Even Philippa's penchant for drinking is exaggerated, although I suspect Macy probably meant it as a form of sympathy for her. Unfortunately, the story soon fades into stereotypes and contrivances that quickly become boring, especially for those us who sigh with relief when the final page is turned.