The hypercompetitive rituals and other inanities of elite suburban preschools get a merciless but droll dissection in Woods’ debut novel.
Meg Norton, stay-at-home mom of two, strives to shoehorn her son Charlie into a prestigious preschool even though she knows he isn’t ready for the transition. The decision to keep him home isn’t hers to make: In her affluent Southern California community, interview tutors for kindergarten admission and waiting lists for preschool are as ordinary as PB&J. Moreover, her husband, Chuck, and wealthy father-in-law attended the Norwich School, which they continue to financially support as alumni. But Charlie’s “interview” isn’t a success—he throws a tantrum over his shoes—and he’s turned down by Norwich administrators. In fact, it takes little for Charlie to have a meltdown; bunchy socks, the wrong drinking cup, even humming can trigger tears and screams. Meg’s endless problems with her son spill into other areas of her life—isolating himself with work, Chuck seems to hold her responsible for Charlie’s oddities; the other moms at play dates and art classes make her feel outcast; even her best friend Dana seems to have transformed into the kind of “A-list mom” they previously mocked. After Charlie gets into Norwich on his third attempt, Meg’s troubles multiply and turn far more serious. She must acknowledge one secret in order to reveal another that will change her son’s life and her own. Woods crafts classroom and backyard scenes into keen, sly takes on the world the Norton family inhabits. Meg makes an ideal medium for this tale. A perpetual outsider, she skewers with delightful off-beat humor all that comes her way—bridal-themed birthday parties, kindergarten graduation ceremonies and school drop-off etiquette. What saves her from sanctimony is that she’s too smart to be unaware of her own complicity and her desperate desire to fit into a world she loathes. She’s astute enough to finally admit, too, that the distance between her problem child and herself may be less than she thinks: “We both have things to learn.”
An irreverent but stylish critique of a privileged social milieu.