A look at the social rites and rituals of downtown Manhattan through the eyes of former New York Post contributor Martin (Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do, 2009, etc.).
Coming to a true understanding of any culture involves immersing oneself completely. While it may be uncommon to conduct anthropological research in a place like Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the author did just that, moving to the neighborhood with little knowledge of the cultural mores but a hunger to learn more. After settling in to the UES with her husband and son, Martin found herself living the sort of pampered life millions of Americans yearn for. She had a husband at work making good money, a baby, a baby nurse, and time to spend getting mothering right. She also realized that she was very much a fish out of water, since she grew up in the slower, less image-obsessed Midwest. The author applied her educational training to finding her way in this unfamiliar environment (she opens with “Fieldnotes” on such elements as “geographic origins of islanders,” “resource acquisition and distribution,” and “quadrant affiliation and construction of social identity”). She explores the “social turbocharge” that women experience through owning a Birkin handbag, and she drops plenty of brand names, store names, street names, and other signposts of identification. When Martin allows the narrative to drift more toward science—e.g., her discussion of the juicing/fasting/detoxing fads and how they can shift estrogen levels—the book becomes a useful guide for UES (and other upwardly mobile) women looking inward to understand themselves better—or alternately, to learn the underpinnings of all the maneuverings so as to socially maneuver more efficiently.
Sometimes funny but effective for the same reason a Birkin is: it’s designed for a certain group of people, and likely them alone.