SUGAR STREET by M.J. Pullen

SUGAR STREET

Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A modern comedy of manners set in a posh Atlanta suburb follows a group of married women.

The latest novel from Pullen (Regrets Only, 2016) opens with a fun, fizzy premise that reads like something straight out of Boccaccio’s Decameron: Some wives in the well-to-do Atlanta suburb of Sugar Mills are, for varying reasons, mildly unhappy in their blissful marriages. Live-and-let-live Jess Rodriguez, a presentation editor for a management consulting firm, loves her husband, Tom, and her 9-year-old daughter, Mina—but even she can’t deny that a certain spark has been missing for a while. PTA goddess Maizy Henriksson, veteran of “endless Tupperware containers of brownies and cookies and muffins whenever the occasion demanded it,” is likewise suffering from a sense of malaise that isn’t helped by the fact that everybody considers her the reliable one. Ambitious Delia Cargill, a whiz at direct-sales house gatherings and other retail pyramid schemes, is desperate to move up in Sugar Mills society and the ranks of the Sugar Mills Country Club. She ingratiates herself to glamorous club members like two-time women’s NCAA tennis champion Carras Lightbourne Prather, who’s got a private dissatisfaction of her own: the long struggle she and her “sweet, unremarkable” husband have endured in their efforts to conceive a child, encompassing “two years of folk wisdom, Internet remedies, injections and very expensive failed IVF cycles.” There’s a lot of inertia and frustration in this “sleepy, affluent suburb, where the biggest conflicts were about trim paint color.”

These residents are all thrown into delightful turmoil by Belinda Hayes-Currington, “one of those super-moms who served on every committee imaginable for her three gorgeous, towheaded children,” who’s recently started taking private tennis lesson from hunky, 20-something freelance instructor (and, it turns out, freelance gigolo) Parker Yung. The appearance of Parker has fired Belinda’s once-oblivious husband, Orson, with renewed romantic zeal. This is a classic comedic development that Pullen—a veteran of this kind of smart, sharp Jilly Cooper–style, guilty-pleasure fiction—manages to near perfection. In quick, confident strokes, she draws her characters in all their conflicting natures, from crass ambition to hapless confusion and everything in between. Even the author’s less savory characters—Delia at her most self-absorbed, for instance, or Belinda virtually every time she opens her mouth—come across as entirely, believably human. The beefcake at the heart of the chaos, gorgeous Parker, ends up having refreshing extra dimensions as well. And as Pullen throws more and more complications into the misadventures of her characters (who end up feeling like they’re on “a rollercoaster ride intended for someone else”), hurdles that grow to include much darker motives, bribery, and extortion, the narrative stays perfectly on point and controlled. The author systematically dismantles the contentment of her very comfortable characters while also keeping the story bouncing with zippy, involving dialogue and a fine sense of dramatic pacing.

A glitzy romp that features suburban wives making unconventional—and haphazardly disastrous—attempts to break out of the safe patterns of their lives.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2018
Page count: 424pp
Publisher: Freshwater Ink
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2018