Before it even hit the shelves, there was a swell of hype around Primates of Park Avenue, by Wednesday Martin. Specifically, whether this outrageous glimpse into the inner lives of über-wealthy moms on Manhattan’s Upper East Side is accurate at all. So I grabbed a copy at Amazon — and the irony of the $10 discount off the hardcover price for those of us middle-class gawkers looking to press our noses against the glass was not lost on me.
I’ll get back to the accuracy point in a bit, but overall, I found the book equal parts intriguing and shocking. And I couldn’t put it down.
If you remember the documentary Nursery University from a few years back, you’ve already seen how competitive the world of New York preschools can be. But in Primates of Park Avenue, you get the whole picture of this microculture — from the playdates strategically planned to help your husband’s career, to the relentless Physique 57 classes, or the power symbol that is a Birkin bag. Plus there’s the sheer amount of time and money spent on hair, makeup and clothing (i.e. more than most people make in a year).
It’s all so staggering, and so, so foreign to this Nashville mama.
What you may not know though, is that the book goes beyond titillating tell-all. Martin is a “social researcher” according to her bio, and throughout the book, she compares the women in her neighborhood to tribes — both animal and human — around the world, showing the similarities in the ways mothers seek social status everywhere. (Ed: Hedge fund wives! They’re just like us!)
These comparisons shed an interesting, if condescending light on these Upper East Side parents’ over-the-top behaviors, like getting numbing injections in their feet so they can make it through the night on a $1,200 pair of shoes that hurt like, well, you know.
But one thing I like is that she never actually seems to judge these moms for not working. She’s more concerned with the gender hierarchy set up in these relationships and how it actually creates a decline of social status for women, as she described in her NY Times opinion piece just before the book launched.
Now you may have an issue with the book if you’re looking for a straight, investigative exposé, along the lines of Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities or any Jon Krakauer book. You definitely have to take it with a grain of salt; and in fact the publisher has recently added an asterisk on the “memoir” description, saying the chronology isn’t entirely accurate and some details have been changed, which brings to mind James Frey and his A Million Little Pieces fiasco. However even before the press started pointing out some inconsistencies in her stories, I had a hard time believing that so many of these “Glam SAHMS” get annual “wife bonuses” from their husbands for a job well done. But it’s clear that some do, and those revelations are in part what make this such a fascinating, juicy summer read.
Whether it makes you envious like crazy, or makes you grateful for your own life is entirely up to you.
You can find Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin at your local bookstore or our affiliate Amazon. Ooh, it’s juicy.