'All this time she had thought that the most important thing worth having in New York was access -- to power, money, fame. What she hadn't realized until this morning was that you could have something even more valuable: information.
Especially when it was someone else's secret.' (from The Spare Wife, page 144)
In Alex Witchel's The Spare Wife, the title refers to Ponce Morris, a model who married into money, because a pro bono attorney, and inherited her ex-husband's fortune when he died. Since the end of her marriage, she has had no use for romantic relationships, and she earned the nickname "the spare wife" for her attention to the relationships of the wealthy couples she calls friends. Ponce goes shopping with the women and watches sports with the men. She helps them host dinner parties, but she's not considered a threat -- until a young, wannabe journalist without much writing talent discovers Ponce is having an affair with a well-known doctor. Babette Steele thinks she's finally found the story that will propel her to journalistic fame -- Ponce, the New York socialite who's built a reputation of being all things to all people, always there when someone needs her, is really a home-wrecker. Once Ponce learns Babette's plans, she and her friends work to stop Ponce's secret from becoming front page news.
While much of the book is about Ponce, Witchel brings other characters to the forefront: Babette, the girl trying to work her way up in the world without a thought to how her actions impact others; Shawsie, Ponce's best friend, who must balance her willingness to ignore her husband's philandering with her desire to bear children and create a happy family; and Red, Shawie's uncle and Ponce's long-time friend, who emerges from a year-long depression following the death of his wife.
The Spare Wife pulls readers into New York City high society, following the affluent characters from work to dinner parties and other social gatherings to the bedroom. Witchel shows that it's exhausting to be rich and well-known, all the keeping up of appearances, all the preparations associated with dinner parties, all the work to maintain a spotless reputation, all the hoops one has to jump through to reach the top of the social ladder. The book is well written, the plot is well paced, and the characters were interesting enough for me to want to know how they fare in the end. However, my life and the lives of these characters are miles apart, and I couldn't identify with them at all. I didn't really like any of them; I found them to be superficial, hypocritical, and arrogant. I suspect that was the point, but I'm the type of reader who looks to forge any type of connection to the main characters, latch onto any good quality that will make me feel for their plight. Though I wasn't able to find that kind of connection with the characters in The Spare Wife, it was nice to escape the dullness of my own life and tag along with high society for a while.
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Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Spare Wife from the publisher for review purposes as part of a MotherTalk blog tour.