Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book Review: Stressed in Scottsdale

By Jami Deise

Modern day life too much for you? Feeling pulled in all directions by work, kids, a significant other who doesn’t know how to wash his socks? Relax. Take a load off. Maybe escape from it all by losing yourself in a good book.... Unless that book is Stressed in Scottsdale, in which case you’ll end up more frazzled than you were before you sat down. And those emails have been piling up in your in-box!

Marcia Fine’s Stressed in Scottsdale stars one Jean Rubin, a grandmother who consults part-time, helping companies with diversity. That doesn’t really sound like the recipe for a stressful life, does it? But add in a mother who needs constant tending, a daughter who thinks Mom is her own personal on-call babysitter, a son who thinks his parents should spring for his wife’s fertility treatments, and a husband who thinks Jean should devote all her time to helping the local Green party candidate get elected … well, these aren’t the golden years anyone expects. Jean’s husband Maury tries to help her get control of her schedule by buying her a Treo to replace her written planner, but that only makes things worse. And Maury’s relationship with a young campaign volunteer, Starr, also sends Jean’s stress levels into the stratosphere.

Fine is a terrific writer, and her first-person account of Jean’s life immerses you completely into her problems. She’s also very specific in her descriptions of Scottsdale, which sounds like New York City meets Boca Raton in the desert, only without so many people. The details of the political campaign, and Jean and Maury’s passion for and knowledge of politics, were also engrossing. My only quibble is that the plot is paper-thin; leaning more toward Jean’s day-to-day crises rather than an overarching problem that has a beginning, middle and end. But truthfully, while that structure is what we expect as readers, life really is more about those day-to-day crises that never end than the huge problems that we somehow manage to solve.

I read Stressed in Scottsdale while I was on the treadmill, and the resultant rise in cortisol levels helped me increase my speed by a half mile. It also got me wondering about the nature of our lives here at the beginning of the twenty first century. I’d always assumed, deep down, that when I got to be Jean’s age, working part time and with my son permanently out of the house, that the pace of my life would slow down enough that a book and a walk on the beach would become a daily part of it. But Fine’s book makes me think that somehow we’ve been conditioned to all this activity, all this stress, all these commitments. Is Stressed in Scottsdale a look into the future for all of us who carry around planners and constantly update our to-do lists? I’d think about this some more, but I’ve got too much to do.

Thanks to Marcia Fine for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Marcia Fine (Jean Rubin series):