Four teachers in suburban New Jersey rely on one another’s friendship and support as they negotiate departmental politics, divorce, cancer, and relationships.
McPherson’s debut novel opens at the start of a new school year in Wick Township, New Jersey. Budgets are slimmer than ever, and instructors are overburdened. Alicia Dean, Barbara Valenti, and Phoebe Cardona must confront ongoing contract disputes and the looming possibility of a strike, the myriad indignities of menopause, helicopter parents at work and troublesome teens at home, all while attempting to make it through the day, whether through support groups, margaritas, impromptu exorcisms, or trips to the spa. Shy Marianna Gorbenko is the odd woman out in the faculty lounge at first, though she finds herself brought into the fold after some witty banter in the teachers’ lounge and post-work aerobics. The four continue to bond while helping Phoebe, a cancer survivor whose loutish husband abandoned her during her illness, move into a new home and recover from the split. As Marianna opens up to her new friends, she becomes more aware of the deep dysfunction within her marriage and its profound impact upon her self-esteem. As the drama-filled holidays give way to spring, a reinvigorated Marianna oversees a class trip, a sudden court battle jolts Phoebe, Alicia contends with a health issue, and Barbara must pick up the pieces after an accident. The novel moves among the perspectives of its four main characters, which can lead to some confusion about who’s who in the first few chapters. But everyone develops her own distinctive voice, and McPherson’s natural, snappy dialogue and crisp pacing keep things lively while allowing deeper insight into her characters.
A sparky, affecting slice-of-life drama.