Book Review: Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin
January 21, 2016
Like an urban Dian Fossey, Wednesday Martin decodes the primate social behaviors of Upper East Side mothers in a brilliantly original and witty memoir about her adventures assimilating into that most secretive and elite tribe.
After marrying a man from the Upper East Side and moving to the neighborhood, Wednesday Martin struggled to fit in. Drawing on her background in anthropology and primatology, she tried looking at her new world through that lens, and suddenly things fell into place. She understood the other mothers’ snobbiness at school drop-off when she compared them to olive baboons. Her obsessional quest for a Hermes Birkin handbag made sense when she realized other females wielded them to establish dominance in their troop. And so she analyzed tribal migration patterns, display rituals, physical adornment, mutilation, mating practices, extra-pair copulation, and more. Her conclusions are smart, thought-provoking, and hilariously unexpected.
Every city has its Upper East Side, and in Wednesday’s memoir, readers everywhere will recognize the strange cultural codes of powerful social hierarchies and the compelling desire to climb them. They will also see that Upper East Side mothers want the same things for their children that all mothers want: safety, happiness, and success;and not even sky-high penthouses and chauffeured SUVs can protect this ecologically released tribe from the universal experiences of anxiety and loss. When Wednesday’s life turns upside down, she learns how deep the bonds of female friendship really are.
Intelligent, funny, and heartfelt, Primates of Park Avenue lifts a veil on a secret, elite world within a world: the exotic, fascinating, and strangely familiar culture of privileged Manhattan motherhood.
I’m always intrigued with memoirs that reflect a lifestyle that I am not very familiar with. When I saw this one was available on audio, I decided to give it a shot. Here are my thoughts after finishing:
On the Plus Side:
- I definitely gained perspective on what life is like on the Upper East side of Manhattan (which I learned is very different from the Upper West side). Some things were not surprising, but some tidbits were definitely unexpected (which I like).
- I liked that Martin compared her experiences to anthropological and cultural research. It made for some very interesting comparisons and potential life lessons learned. At times, I was a little bored listening to the “field notes” or research, but it did add to the overall feel of the story.
- I learned a great deal about expensive fashion, restaurants, workouts, parties, property, and more.
- Martin is clearly a highly intelligent and well put together woman. I hope she was able to maintain some of her down-to-Earth perspective as her life progressed, despite the fact that she seemed to be losing quite a bit of it the longer she stayed on the Upper East side.
- The book made me so very grateful for my life and the people who are in it. I never have to doubt that the people I surround myself with will be there for me when I need them!
On the Minus Side:
- There were moments when I was extremely frustrated listening to Martin complain about her period of adjustment. Why would someone even want to move to a place where people treated others so horribly and competition and stress were so high for not only yourself but your children. It is a mindset that I have difficulty understanding.
Overall, I thought this was a fair book. I enjoyed many of the tidbits I learned (ask me about my thoughts on Botox after reading the book), but I found myself very frustrated at other moments. I think this was perfect on audio – I’m not totally sure I would have stuck with it in paper form.
What did you think of the Primates of Park Avenue? What other books do you recommend for exposing oneself to a lifestyle that’s different from one’s own?