Suzy Duffy writes about Wellesley wives in her new book
By Taryn Plumb | Globe Correspondent
October 07, 2012
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
WELLESLEY — They’re beautiful, spoiled rich, enviously thin, always well-styled, and naive to the day-to-day struggles of everyday Americans.
In short: They’re Wellesley wives.
Or so they are depicted — admittedly in caricature — in Suzy Duffy’s new novel, titled for its quartet of gorgeous, popular, more-privileged-than-the-rest-of-us socialites. But Duffy, a native of Ireland and a Wellesley wife herself, stressed that her book is “not an exposé on Wellesley women — it’s a celebration of life. Women around the world, we’re all the same: We think the same, we worry about the same things.”
Still, in“Wellesley Wives,” which was released Sept. 28 by the Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House, those larger, shared issues — such as romantic relationships and family dynamics — are intermingled with more superficial concerns, such as how to “work’’ a room, the proper flowers for accenting a palatial home, and whether a screaming-red Ferrari is the best accessory for driving around town.
The novel follows the high and low times of protagonist Popsy Power, a ditzy glam mom who only barely grasps the value of money; her best friend Sandra, an exercise fanatic who is trying to return the luster to her marriage; and Popsy’s daughters, Rosie and Lily, who are contending with their own romantic entanglements.
“It’s a story about women surviving together — we can really survive anything that life throws at us, as long as we have friends surrounding us,” explained Duffy, a mother of five who moved to Wellesley from Dublin three years ago, and, when asked her age, replied wryly that she has “seen 40 come and go.”
“It’s just to entertain women, to make them laugh. It’s pure escapism.”
Ultimately, Wellesley has long been an exotic and enigmatic lure for writers looking to expose the gilded underbelly of the affluent suburbs.
A 2003 film, “Mona Lisa Smile,” for example, portrayed several 1950s Wellesley College students as snobby husband-seekers (and drew widespread criticism as a result, including from the college’s president at the time, Diana Chapman Walsh).
This spring, Dover author Janet Eve Josselyn set part of a novel about the cutthroat suburban social-climbing scene in Wellesley; and Linda Erin Keenan’s 2011 “Suburgatory: Twisted Tales from Darkest Suburbia” (recently adapted for an ABC show) took a few bits of inspiration from her experiences in town.
Meanwhile, exposing real-life dark tales, the new “A Murder in Wellesley” by Tom Farmer and Marty Foley, explores the 1999 murder of May Greineder by her physician husband Dirk Greineder, who purportedly lived a double life filled with pornography and prostitutes.
“Wellesley women (and men, for that matter), and Wellesley itself, are all easy targets for fiction writers’ imaginations and for exaggerated prose,” Bob Brown, author of the town news blog “The Swellesley Report,” said in an e-mail interview.
The town has a “well-earned” reputation for being wealthy, he said, adding drolly that he’s “pretty sure it’s a law that anyone from outside of town who is writing about Wellesley has to (use) one of the following words on first reference: ‘affluent,’ ‘wealthy,’ ‘chic,’ ‘prosperous’ or ‘well-heeled.’ ”
Meanwhile, the fabulously stylish sisters Kimberly and Alexis Kissam, who run an upscale boutique, Isabel Harvey, said they believe it’s the “moral” issue that makes Wellesley a desirable backdrop for writers.
That is: “Thinking that money will make you happy,” Kimberly wrote in an e-mail. “However, as life unfolds, it’s not the material things that make people happy, it’s finding that perfect recipe for happiness — and that is a story that most people can relate to. It’s the perfect storm of the American dream vs. the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is not found in Ferraris or Lamborghinis.”
Well, at least in the beginning chapters of “Wellesley Wives,” it seems to be: In the opening pages, Popsy’s adoring husband dishes out $500,000 for a “special edition” red Ferrari.
And Duffy, an international best-selling author, is playful with the concept of a “Wellesley wife,” describing such a creature as a unique breed with “25 percent lower BMI than the average American wife, and 1,275 percent greater net worth.” They are smart, beautiful, and confident, “more capable than they realize and more envied than they wish,” she writes.
But as Sandra, Popsy, and her daughters struggle through hardships they’d never imagined — relationships gained and lost, love triangles, extramarital affairs, financial troubles, deaths and rebirth — they become even more endearing and accessible to the everyday reader, and even humbled.
“The story can be applied to any affluent town,” said Kimberly Kissam. “Every town has its share of different characters . . . its share of cliques.”
Brown agreed that Duffy’s book is meant to be light-hearted, and that, overall, “people in Wellesley are good at poking fun at themselves.”
And contrary to popular belief, he’s met “all types” in town, including “a bunch of smart women” who put their careers on hold to take care of children, and redirect their skills to organize school, athletic, art, and philanthropic programs.
This trait is evident with Duffy herself: She plans to donate 10 percent of what she earns from “Wellesley Wives” to the nonprofit Friends of Boston’s Homeless.
That act embodies what the Kissams called the “thoughtful community” that Wellesley is, but that isn’t often emphasized. Ultimately, they stressed, Wellesley women are friendly, kind, thoughtful, health conscious, well educated, and hard workers, and they give back to the community.
Duffy, for her part, agreed, calling the upturned-nose, money-spilling-out-of-purse reputation “rubbish.”
“The women I’ve met in Wellesley are all highly normal women: If they eat a doughnut, it goes straight on their hips, just like any other woman in the country,” she said, laughing through her rolling Irish lilt.
They’re living their lives just like everybody else, “doing right by their kids,” she noted. She added that she and her family “fell in love with Wellesley,” and have found “incredibly good soul mates here.”
But look out, Newton and Natick: In the works for next fall is “Newton Neighbors,” which explores the “ridiculous lengths” people will go to live in desirable areas; and after that, “Natick Nannies,” (its working title), inspired by what Duffy described as the “power that nannies can wield in a house.”
In the end, it’s all meant in good spirit.
“It’s really just about women on fun adventures,” she said.
Duffy will do a book signing at 7 p.m. Friday at Wellesley Books. Visit her website, www.suzyduffybooks.com, for more details or to buy the book.
© 2012 The New York Times Company