William Morrow / December 26, 2012 / $14.99 print, $9.99 digital
Molly Hagan is overwhelmed.
Her husband left her for a younger, blonder woman; her six-year-old son is questioning her authority, and now so is she. In order to pay her Brooklyn rent and keep her son supplied with Pokémon and Legos, not to mention food and clothing, she has to get a job—fast.
So when an old friend offers Molly a freelance position copywriting for a new bakery, finding romance is just about the last thing on her mind. But the sexy British pastry chef who's heading up the bakery has other thoughts. And then so does Molly, when she meets the chef's intimidating business partner—who also happens to have a secret that might prevent Molly from getting her own happily ever after.
It’s a simple premise, really: books and coffee go hand in hand for many people. Add in a decadent pastry, and the bar has been infinitely raised. It’s with these ideas in mind that Megan Caldwell presents her debut release, Vanity Fare. But beneath the surface (of the pie crust, if you will), what you’ll find in this book is an Austen-worthy tale of love and insights into friendships and relationships, as well as how to live a life you’d be proud of.
Our story starts off with Molly, freshly cuckolded in her marriage to Hugh, who now finds she has to start earning a living on her own when her ex becomes unable to continue with support payments. This is an overwhelming idea, especially for someone who had given up everything for their husband to pursue his career, while she raised their son. More than merely intimidating as a story line, it’s totally relatable one for many wome. It can be a lonesome burden, certainly, but with Molly as a role model, readers can feel that same sense of empowerment as she learns and grows throughout the duration of the novel.
I walked back to the kitchen, my mind buzzing with a bunch of things: my bank balance, Aidan’s annoying habit of asking for food when he was hungry, my future, his future, our future, and that Ben Folds Five song where Ben demands that the bitch give his money back.
In fact, read in a certain light, Vanity Fare can act as a how-to guide to find a life for yourself that is worth living. At its base, it’s relevant in today’s social climate for many women that have been left in a crappy position post break up, or even for someone that’s reached a point where they are disillusioned with the their current situation. Taken from Molly’s deeper perspective, the book should/could encourage readers to be brave in facing new ventures (adventures?), be it dating again after twenty years or scrap booking. The proverbial bull and his horns can be grabbed by anyone, if they just allow themselves to take the chance.
The story is rich in character, from the proposed names for pastries, like “Tart of Darkness” and “Middlestarch” to the list of players that help to move the story along. Molly balances responsible with fun, as she offers her inner snarkiness frequently while coping with the demands of life. It is this spark in her that paves the way for what will comes next in her life.
The contrast between Nick and Simon was where the there seemed to be a nod to Pride and Prejudice, thematically. Nick was reasonably Darcy-esque, as he held back his true nature because of situations certainly more relevant in the twenty-first century than those of the original. Simon, on the other hand, appeared a mashup of Bingley and Wickham, with the high spirits and joie de vivre of the former mixed with a little mischief, like that latter (though not exactly as dastardly).
[Nick] read Dickens? Shakespeare? Brontë? Be still, my heart. Next he’d be telling me he read Jane Austen. I would’ve guessed he’d only read Machiavelli’s The Prince, at least when he wasn’t perusing The Arrogant Guy’s Guide to Total Intimidation. Funny how impressions could change. At least a little bit.
But life isn’t just about finding a companion in love alone. Molly must deal with a tricky relationship with her mother, which again is something that speaks (volumes) to many people. It’s reassuring, this voyeuristic look into someone else’s mother/daughter relationship; it exemplifies how much of the time we read into the other’s actions and words without actually knowing what’s really going on in their head. Then again, sometimes the disappointment in a parent’s voice is all too clear, making communication that much harder. It’s when they finally admit to also having human frailties, or suffering because of them, that barriers are broken.
“Can we get a pet? I mean, now that Daddy’s moved out?” I bit my tongue before I suggested we replace Daddy with a rat....
“Yeah. Maybe a tarantula, or a snake, or an elephant.”
“An elephant wouldn’t fit.”
“Or a cat. Grammy has a cat.” Grammy’s kinda on Mommy’s hate list right now, honey.
It’s easy to see, through Molly’s interactions with her ex, Hugh, and with her mother, how she is a heroine filled with self-doubt and lacking any real confidence. Fortunately, she is surrounded by great friends and an excellent therapist to help her meander through her daily obstacles. Her friends, though also quite different in nature from each other, offer Molly the support she needs to get back in the game, while calling her on her self-pitying ramblings. These types of friendships are truly the secret component of any modern woman’s arsenal of survival tools.
Vanity Fare is a novel filled with layers (perhaps like the Clockwork Orange Chiffon Cake mentioned?), from finding a new career or new love, to discovering that there is always room for growth in any (worthy) relationship. It’s about being willing to make changes and take chances that can enlightent and maybe even provoke readers into action. With a mixture of heartwarming emotion and humor, it shows us that stepping outside our comfort zone can bring many great things into our lives.
Jackie Lester imagines a day when she can make a living as a writer. Until then, she reviews eclectic books at My Ever Expanding Library and lives in small-town Ontario with her daughter.