Two stories, set decades apart, reflect unreliably on the gender wars.
Buchan’s latest (The Good Wife Strikes Back, 2004, etc.) presents Siena, a London fashion columnist on the rise. She’s been tapped to star in an American makeover show, a hybrid of What Not To Wear and Queer Eye, complete with a sidekick named Fersen. The second story’s character, Barbara, is a suburban housewife in the 1950s, married to Ryder, a commercial pilot who suffers flashbacks of Spitfire dogfights from WWII. Her burgeoning fruit garden and two adult children preoccupy her until she encounters Alexander, a handsome twentysomething psychology student. As for Siena, at 35, (the new 25), she has set her biological clock on snooze: her rocketing career deafens her even to husband Charlie’s increasingly strident pleas for children and a house in the suburbs. Barbara, on the other hand, at 42 (the old 52), is still attractive, and her husband is always flying to Nigeria, so she and Alexander consummate their love during an idyllic riverside picnic. Charlie, a legal-aid lawyer defending a woman accused of murdering her infant, fails to understand just how tired a mother can get, while Barbara tries to forget Alexander on a romantic trip to Switzerland with Ryder. But when the airline later calls Ryder away, Alexander shows up for one last tryst. Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, Siena and Charlie can’t have a coherent discussion. Charlie goes incommunicado, maybe house-hunting, maybe trying to rekindle something with his ex-wife; Siena goes back to New York to dress the truculent with the aid of the recalcitrant; the banished Alexander makes a halfhearted play for Barbara’s niece Sophie; and Barbara is lately nauseated by every little thing . . . could it be? Just when things are getting interesting, it all ends, Siena teetering on the brink of motherhood and house pride.
Barbara’s story is the more realized; Siena’s a tritely topical afterthought: neither profits from the pairing.