The Primates of Park Avenue: a memoir by Wednesday Martin

What a funny and interesting memoir. Wednesday Martin, PhD, has worked as a writer and social researcher in New York City for more than two decades. Using her background in anthropology and primatology, Primates of Park Avenue compares Martin's research of primates to the social climbing rituals she discovered while trying to fit in upon her arrival on the Upper East Side of New York with her husband and young son. She describes the women there as "a tight tribe of glamorous, uber-wealthy mommies with sharp elbows and massive ambitions" and humorously shares her struggle to fit in. Once you start reading, you will see why.

Fans of any of The Real Housewives reality series might find this book as entertaining as I did. 'The author was born in the Midwest and had lived a relatively traditional childhood. She moved to New York City to pursue her doctorate in cultural studies, but became a journalist instead. In her midthirties she met and married her husband, a New York City native with teenage daughters from a previous marriage. Life was great, until they relocated to the Upper East Side after 9/11. Imagine trying to fit into a social environment where even walking down the sidewalk is an exercise in dominance and submission. Everyone competes to have the best of everything. The chapter on the author's quest to acquire the coveted Birkin bag was insightful. She wanted it in the worst way but once she had it she experienced feelings of anxiety and a certain sense of sadness. Why? It was the age old philosophy of wanting something until you have it. The search, or hunt, is over, and once you have it, do you deserve it? Complicated, but true in many aspects of our lives. The Upper East Side is known for its wealth, and the financial revelations on what it costs to "fit in" are jaw dropping, from the cost of yoga lessons (from the instructor of the moment), to getting your child into the top preschools. It was appalling to me the lengths people will go to move ahead on the waiting lists. As I searched for other reader's opinions on the book I discovered a lot of negative reviews. I found Primates of Park Avenue to be at turns funny and surprisingly sad. It is a look at the inner life of a group of people which we the reader, statistically speaking, will not ever be a part of, yet we judge them. Though it is outlandishly different lives they lead, compared to most Americans, we tend to judge the wealthy as undeserving and forget that they are people too. The book is filled with humorous observations of the similarities of Park Avenue socialites to the behavior of primates, until the final chapter. It is a chapter on motherhood and loss and could almost have been developed into its own book. I found it insightful, poignant, and honest. After losing her unborn baby, the author was surprised how such a horrible experience became the key to unlocking the emotions in the other mothers who previously had appeared rich, indifferent, and vain. One by one, day after day, they emailed, sent flowers, or called. Many called, not just to offer words of sympathy, but to share their own tragic stories of losing a child.

You will either love Primates of Park Avenue or hate it. It wasn't the best book I have ever read, but, as I stated earlier, I think it will appeal to those of you who never miss an episode of The Real Housewives. Sometimes it is fun to peer into the lives of those we might envy, but what we find may be the last thing we expect.

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