The urban-sophisticate mothers of middle-class Brooklyn come under the spotlight in a debut novel set in Eden, the not-so-paradisiacal Long Island beach house where a play group gathers to spend one transformative Labor Day weekend.
Needy, obsessive-compulsive and anxious—and that’s just the parents in Fierro’s satire of contemporary New York child care. Nicole, mother of Wyatt, is continuously wracked with terror over germs and knives but now fears a catastrophe is looming and posts her apprehensions on urbanmama.com; lesbian couple Susanna and Allie are keeping secrets from each other while stressing over who’s the real mommy; stay-at-home dad Rip needs his wife, Grace, to want another baby, but she doesn’t; and former debutante Leigh, whose son, Chase, has behavioral issues, is unwilling to share her Tibetan Buddhist nanny, Tenzin, with sexy Tiffany, still breast-feeding her bossy daughter, Harper, age 4. As the holiday proceeds and meals, conversations and beach activities go on in the background, Fierro tirelessly pursues her characters’ interior dilemmas, moving from one adult perspective to another, each parent preoccupied with sex, money, work, home, partner and, of course, the actual children. While the Americans are all pursuing some elusive future happiness, it is asylum-seeking Tenzin, thousands of miles from her husband and children, who can see the bigger, life-and-death picture and delivers the moral message: “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from our own actions.” Eventually, on the final evening, the claustrophobic pitch of petty tension among this edgy group intensifies, leading to an inevitable but brief riot of panic, bad behavior and repentance.
Capable and readable but narrowly focused, Fierro’s novel, with its obvious targets, can seem like the literary equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.