Mercury in Retrograde
By Paula Froelich
Atria, 272 pp., $24
Bring on the breezy beach reads! Page Six’s Paula Froelich puts a good deal of fun, wit and observation about New York City (which she no doubt picked up on the job) into her debut novel, and all without a smidgen of mean-spiritedness. Seriously!
Mercury in Retrograde follows three women—Penelope Mercury (hence the title), a young, go-getter reporter at the New York Telegraph (hmmm, whatever paper does this sound like? “a tabloid with headlines like ‘Kabloomie!’”) who gets herself fired after a string of mishaps; Lena “Lipstick” Lippencrass, a socialite addicted to the gossip Web site Socialstatus.com who works at a glossy fashion magazine and loses her parentally paid credit cards and apartment; and Dana Gluck, a corporate lawyer and recent divorcée who has become severely depressed. The three women cross paths via—what else?—yoga and a Soho apartment building. (Though we do think Penelope would be living in Brooklyn, but why quibble?) But what’s refreshing about the book is its lack of claws. It would have been easy to let these women fall into chick lit cliché-dom with dashing princes to save them from themselves. Instead, Ms. Froelich bestows her characters with actual souls (thank you!), and gives them very human flaws. They do things like sleep with their crush on the first date, sweat too much and have their hair fall out from anxiety. Best of all, each one makes their way through the mire without their love lives (though, of course, there’s a bit of that in there, too) being the central issue—all that stuff takes a back seat to the drive and desire of each woman to discover the people they want to eventually be.
Which is not to say the book is not without its fantasy elements (perfect single hot men who are good and decent and emotionally available? Where?), but even then Ms. Froelich writes with tongue firmly in cheek. For example, the dramatic third act takes place at the Met gala and the theme (perfectly) is “Feathers, Flight, and Fancy.” “To add a physical feathery presence to the Great Hall of the Met,” she writes, “there were three indentured ostriches roaming through the crowd, with harnesses and trainers in tow. Several live eagles and hawks hung from gilded cages in the corners of the room and looked hungrily down at the multicolored peacocks wandering in between tables set with plumes and guests adorned in the feathers of their dead relatives. Every so often the peacocks were prodded by their handlers—not enough to hurt, but enough to scare—so they would fan out their tails and become the living art they were hired to be. They were in the middle of the largest gilded cage ever.” Also, an added bonus for savvy New York readers: Ms. Froelich has said that some sharp-eyed folks will be able to guess the true identities of some of the peripheral characters. Teen starlet Kitty Foil, we’re onto you!
Sara Vilkomerson is a reporter at The Observer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.