Scandal Reboot – Young Jane Young

Unknown-3  Since Alexander Hamilton had an extramarital affair with Maria Reynolds in the seventeen nineties, American politicians have been notorious for sex scandals, but Gabrielle Zevin uses the details of one of the most famous in recent history, involving an intern, in her hilarious yet poignant story of Young Jane Young.

With the requisite degree in political science and aspirations to someday hold office herself, Aviva uses her family connections for an unpaid internship in a legislative office. Her voluptuous figure does not go unnoticed by her supervisor who advises her to find a blouse to better contain her overflowing breasts, and by the Congressman himself who mentally notes her possibilities.  The story continues as expected, following the historic details fairly closely, but with a few embellishments on Aviva’s mother, Holocaust survivor grandmother, and philandering father.  The scandal is exposed when the Congressman and Aviva are involved in a bizarre car accident, reminiscent of Ted Kennedy’s scandal in Chappaquiddick,  and Aviva is branded with the scarlet letter; the Congressman apologizes for any pain he might have caused, and successfully wins reelection.  Sound familiar?

Zevin then imagines what life would have been like if Monica Lewinsky, the inspiration for the tale, had changed her name and moved to an obscure town in Maine.  Instead of trying to sell handbags or giving paid interviews to pay her legal fees as the infamous intern did, Aviva quietly disappears when she becomes pregnant.  Using the Jennifer Lopez movie as her inspiration, she creates a career as a wedding planner and seems to be on the road to recovery and a new satisfying life, until Aviva decides to run for mayor of the small town.  Her opponent, a former disgruntled client, discovers her secret, and inadvertently exposes her past to her thirteen year old daughter, Ruby.  When Aviva’s lurid blog resurfaces after fifteen years – nothing disappears from the internet – Ruby uses her mother’s credit card to fly to Florida to confront the Congressman she thinks might be her father.

The story is divided into five segments, from the point of view of Aviva’s mother with her own dating debacles and Zevin’s exaggerated take on the Jewish mother who only wants the best for her daughter.  The other sections involve one with Aviva herself as she reminisces years after the affair, and another with her daughter Ruby’s protracted missives with her penpal in Indonesia.  A funny pick-your own-adventure chapter details how different decisions made by two people with extremely different levels of power could have averted the disaster.  With a reverent nod to the politician’s wives who endure their husbands indiscretions, Zevin creates a sympathetic character in the legislator’s wife, who manages to retain her self-respect throughout the ordeal.

Zevin offers a redemptive  ending with Aviva surviving the slut-shaming and winning her election   – this is fiction, after all.    Zevin has her heroine choose not to be ashamed in the end – a good prescriptive for anyone with mistakes in the past.

Review of Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Advertisements

Book Club Picks for 2015

images-1Whether or not you like to discuss books, a list of possible new reads is always tempting to explore, and next year’s selection of books from one of my local book clubs offers quite a range.  Only ten books, one a month; November is for lunching and December for the holidays.

The books I’ve read and reviewed are in red; click on the link to read my thoughts.  I checked out summaries and review of the others – just to see what there are about…

Have you read any on the list?

Book Club Picks for 2015

1) The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

2) China Dolls by Lisa See

“…three young women who come up together on the “Chop Suey Circuit” — all-Asian nightclub shows for mostly white audiences: Helen {is} from the traditional family of a well-heeled Chinatown merchant; Grace escaped an abusive home in the Midwest; and Ruby is a scrappy climber, a Japanese dancer “passing” as Chinese. They pledge everlasting friendship to one another, only to see their bond suffer the ravages of fame, time and war, particularly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.”  from Jennifer Keishin Armstrong review in the New York Times

3) Fear the Worst by Linwood Barclay

“A crime thriller based on a daughter’s mysterious disappearance… thrusts her father into the world of violence and deception that lurks just below the surface of his nondescript Connecticut suburb.”  from Kirkus Reviews

4) The Blue Zone by Dan Buettner

Review from the New York Times: How To Live Longer Without Really Trying 

5) The Tattoo by Chris McKinney

“Ken Hideyoshi is the new guy in Halawa Correctional Institute (Hawaii)…. observes his cellmate Cal—the mute tattoo artist of the prison, a wife murderer. SYN, a gang symbol, is tattooed on his hand, and he has a Japanese emblem inscribed on his left shoulder. He asks Cal for a tattoo on his back…While he is being worked on, he tells Cal his life story, a tale of hardship and abuse… ”  from the Barnes and Noble Overview

6) Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo

“Just two months shy of his fourth birthday, Colton Burpo, the son of an evangelical pastor in Imperial, Neb., was rushed into emergency surgery with a burst appendix.  He woke up with an astonishing story: He had died and gone to heaven, where he met his great-grandfather; the biblical figure Samson; John the Baptist; and Jesus…  Colton’s father, Todd, has turned the boy’s experience into a 163-page book…”  from Julie Bosman’s New York Times Review

7) The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

Short story collection by Nigerian author of “Americanah”

8) The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry  by Gabrielle Zevin

9) The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar

“Héctor Tobar’s second novel sweeps its central character from almost-serfdom and sends her on an odyssey through the teeming mysteries of Los Angeles and the wild jungles of the California judicial system…”

Book Review: The Barbarian Nurseries  by Richard Rayner, Special to the Los Angeles Times

10) Where’d You Go, Bernadette?  by Maria Semple