Paesel (Mommies Who Drink, 2006) structures her dark comedy about the First-World problems of upper-middle-class Californians around a constant stream of emails circulating among the parents of 10-year-olds on a junior soccer team.
Although the Manatees belong to a league in supposedly glamorous Beverly Hills, anyone whose kids have ever played sports will recognize the absurdities of team politics as expressed in the emails. The Manatees’ parents are a hot mess of ego, insecurity, and libido. An annoying yoga instructor continually complains about unhealthy snacks. An aggressive, anything-for-a-win dad wages ongoing warfare with his steely attorney ex-wife despite the negative impact on their rage-filled son. The team mother puts a happy face on every team screw-up while she pretends her son’s frighteningly extreme behavior is normal. Stereotypical Korean immigrants tiger-parent their athletically talented son, unaware of the boy’s other secret talents—stealing and out-of-body travel, the latter adding an incongruous dash of surrealism that never really makes sense. Recently divorced, relatively self-aware Diane, whose point of view dominates the narrative, finds reading and sometimes responding to e-mails while drinking wine (lots of it) the perfect escape from loneliness. And then there’s Coach Randy. As jovial and upbeat as he tries to come across in his group emails, referring to himself as “your favorite coach! (kidding),” he faces his own crises with growing distress. Though he's unaware that his much-younger wife, Missy, is having an affair with Alejandro, the hunky Colombian college student hired as a “private skills coach” for the boys, he still can't bring himself to tell her that he’s been fired from his job. Instead he confides in Diane, who is also involved with Alejandro. The plot shenanigans are more sad than silly because the pain avoidance practiced by most of the adult characters through secrecy, misrepresentation, or self-delusion tends to cause only more pain.
The email-driven narrative and multiple subplots show technical dexterity and wit, but the soullessness of the world Paesel describes is depressing.