The Permanent Press, 2009
293 Pages, Fiction
4 out of 5 stars
The question is not, ‘what happens when a suburban divorcee tries cocaine for the hell of it?’ The question is, ‘what secrets lie behind the doors and discreetly parted blinds and curtains of your neighbors?’ What are the dark and shameful habits of your coworkers? What questionable pastimes happen after the workday is done, when the work shoes and suits are back in the closet, and the kids have gone to bed?
Marc Schuster’s Wonder Mom and Party Girl is the story of a seemingly normal, law abiding, single mother named Audrey who gives into peer pressure and, trying to please everyone in her life, decides that it won’t hurt to try a single line of cocaine. I’m taken back to the days of grade school, when Nancy Reagan was the face of the Just Say No campaign but millions of kids would still D.A.R.E to use drugs. I remember that old commercial where the kid is confronted by an angry father holding a box full of drugs, demanding to learn where they came from. “You alright? I learned it by watching you!”
The war on drugs ended neither in victory nor defeat, it just sort of petered out. Did we give up? Or did the children who were being coached to just say no grow up and decide it would be okay to just say yes?
Audrey is quite likely one of these children. Now a grown up mother of two grade school girls, she is working a thankless job and putting up with her ex-husband’s new girlfriend and a cast of selfish coworkers who are more interested in getting high than looking out for Audrey’s well-being. This is a suspenseful tale that layers anticipation for Audrey’s first encounter with cocaine. As a suburban mother, she keeps excusing her sin. “I’m an adult…I’m really a good person.” Like a college freshman experimenting with marijuana, it’s just one little taste.
The story really comes to life after her first experience with the drug. The crash, the regret, the promise to never do it again. Some people never change. Then the story calms back to its tale of mundane suburban family life, but then Audrey does another line of cocaine and returns to the video game with her daughters and starts to kick ass.
The spending spree in the mall is one of the strongest chapters, where Audrey is powered by coke and in command all the way. Just when you think she’s ready to come clean about what she’s done, you learn that “coming clean” means admitting that she just spent thousands of dollars at the mall. On the way home, she turns into a complete bitch and we know we’re headed for disaster.
Like most American drug stories, we know where this one is headed and the supporting characters are not as well developed as Audrey. The first person narrative sticks with the protagonist and we don’t have a chance to get into the heads of her children. Her boyfriend Owen is a jazz-obsessed blur, who fades in and out of the story to suit Audrey’s needs.
It is Audrey’s downward ride to the bottom that remind us that drugs are still a part of our culture. I’ve encountered them at every job I’ve had, every school I’ve attended. Yes, even grade school where it was all about getting high. High on sugar. Or the teachers, drinking powerful coffee (as the author calls it – drugs in a cup). Chocolate, chamomile tea, bath crystals that take you away.
What about the hard stuff? The real drugs? Sure, they are everywhere too. From leftover Vicodin capsules to a radio talk show host arrested for being addicted to pain medication to the guy at work who was fired for being drunk. We cannot tolerate these infringements on our peaceful society let we live to get high.
The search for a drug-free culture is the search for a perfect society. It does not exist. It will never exist. Instead we must face it and live our lives confronted with a series of daily choices.
The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl is available wherever books are sold but you should visit the author’s site first.
Reviewed by Mark McGinty, June 2010