In Center’s lighthearted latest (The Bright Side of Disaster, 2007), a young mother yearns for self-realization while wrangling three boisterous preschoolers and a distracted husband.
Lanie Coates’ introduction to Cambridge, Mass., where her composer husband Peter has begun graduate studies, is a local park, where she hopes to find other mothers to befriend. The Coateses, including three boys, Alexander, Toby and Baby Sam, all under the age of five, moved from Lanie’s close-knit Houston neighborhood, leaving her supportive parents behind. At the park, the mothers recoil in shock when Toby bites another child. All, that is, but one woman, who asks Lanie when she’s due. But Lanie isn’t pregnant—she hopes. Just as she’s about to demure, Amanda, Lanie’s cheerleader high-school classmate, appears out of nowhere and offers to organize a shower. Determined to drop postpartum pounds, Lanie signs up with a local gym. Every weeknight, after the kids are in bed, Lanie works out on the treadmill, ignoring glances from a middle-aged fellow exerciser with Ted Koppel hair. Peter, busy with his piano, mostly leaves Lanie to single-handedly supervise the boys. Hoping to revive her artistic career, former painter Lanie takes up photography and finds that she’s a natural despite having to fend off her instructor, the very same Ted Koppel look-alike. When Peter, on the eve of a career-making trip, catches “Ted” kissing Lanie, a communication impasse ensues, not helped by Lanie’s tendency to mislay cell phones. Amanda, mother of preternaturally docile Gracin, tries to mentor Lanie’s makeover, but tempers her beauty and sex tips with disillusion. (Amanda’s wealthy but homely husband has decamped, bursting her Martha Stewart bubble.) In less deft hands, the horrors of the out-of-control Coates toddlers would resemble bad reality television, but Center’s breezy style invites the reader to commiserate, laughing all the way, with Lanie’s plight.
Avoids the obvious clichés, while harkening pleasantly back to ’50s-era motherhood humor classics like Jean Kerr’s Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.