Any population is fair game for anthropological research, so why not the super-rich, super-thin and oh-so-well-dressed mothers of New York’s Upper East Side? That’s the reasoning of author Wednesday Martin, and she puts it to the test in Primates of Park Avenue, her account of six years as a wife and mother in Manhattan’s toniest neighborhood.
Sorry, make that Wednesday Martin, Ph.D.: Martin does have a doctorate in cultural studies. So she brings some gravitas to the project, and she’s not shy about rolling it out. But not to worry—there are plenty of laugh lines and arch observations as Martin surveys the scene of exclusive preschools, lavish fundraisers and second homes in the Hamptons. The result is illuminating and fun to read.
Martin is not exactly parachuting in from grad school at Berkeley, brushing granola crumbs off her work shirt. It’s obvious that her husband makes plenty of money, and they move from Greenwich Village to the East Side by choice (family reasons, you know). So in a way she fits in, and in a way she doesn’t, and that contributes to the book’s dynamics.
She pushes back, for example, against some of the tribe’s most established customs, such as signing infants up for nursery school (she “totally forgot” this step in the path to Harvard). But she also goes native, deciding that she absolutely must have a Hermès Birkin bag.
Primates of Park Avenue isn’t all snide comments and wry asides. Martin experiences a personal tragedy, bringing her closer to the neighborhood’s team of rivals. And finally, a simple declaration: “We moved across town” to the West Side (family reasons again). Given Martin’s skills in observation, we can hope to look forward to Primates of Columbus Avenue.
This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.