Half-Way Through Motherland and Enjoying It
Many will remember that I was not a big fan of Amy Sohn’s Prospect Park West. Still, I found myself excited about the release of the sequel. Yesterday, I downloaded Motherland, onto my Nook. It is only the second book I have read using that indispensible contraption. The first was Then Again, the very entertaining memoir by Diane Keaton.
I think Motherland is better than Prospect Park West and I’m really enjoying it. A lot. While the book does a good job of satirizing Park Slope, it’s really about modern marriage and all of its travails, inherent disappointments and infidelties.
In the earlier book, I found Sohn’s disdain for Park Slope’s women to be quite gratuitous and insulting. There’s some of that in this book but it’s integrated into the fabric of the narrative and characterizations more elegantly this time around.
Motherland is a fun read as are Sohn’s references to Connecticut Muffin, PS 321, Effed in Park Slope, the Community Bookstore and the Food Coop.
But the book won my heart with a character by the name of Helene Buzzi, an old time Park Sloper. Her encounter with a mother and son playing at the train set in front of Little Things is hilarious, as is her transgressive behavior (the nature of which I won’t reveal here. In a way it’s way more shocking than any of the sex in this sex-filled book). Buzzi has watched this neighborhood go from modest oasis to high-end Yuppieville and she’s not happy about it.
“It was a strange feeling to live in a neighborhood you could no longer afford. You were the reason values had gone up, and yet you were invisible. In the eighties, there were no lawyers or bankers in Park Slope; yuppies lived in Manhattan. Now the whole neighborhood was yuppies. And none of them had any sense of the past. They didn’t understand that Helen’s generation of Slopers had improved the schools, reduced crime, attracted small busineeses, gotten bans to lend, start block associationa, and increased property values—all things that had turned the Slope into a destination. The old stores were gone, gone so long that the numer of people who remembered them were themselves a disappearing minority. Al’s Toyland. Herzog Brothers, the German deli. Danny’s candy store. Irv’s stationery. One Smart Cookie. The Grecian Corner. A true New Yorker knew storefronts according to what used to be in them.”
Sure, Helene is a Park Slope sterotype but she’s a compelling character and her observations are cogent. An ESL teacher at a Lower East Side school, Helen lives on Sixth Street in a house she and her husband (whom she calls The Bastard) bought in 1978 for thirty-seven thousand dollars. The following are my favorite sentences in the book:
“Sometime when they came home at night, they would find junkies on the stoop. They knew their names. Now they she knew only a handful of names on the block. The junkies had been more polite than the yuppies.”