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Social Lives

Social Lives

3.6 6
by Wendy Walker

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Step into picture-perfect Wilshire, home to some of the most privileged people in the world, where one woman's desperate act could bring the precariously balanced social order crashing down…

Wilshire, Connecticut, the gilded enclave of Manhattan's prosperous elite, appears to be a vision of suburban tranquility: the mansions are tastefully designed, the


Step into picture-perfect Wilshire, home to some of the most privileged people in the world, where one woman's desperate act could bring the precariously balanced social order crashing down…

Wilshire, Connecticut, the gilded enclave of Manhattan's prosperous elite, appears to be a vision of suburban tranquility: the mansions are tastefully designed, the lawns are expertly manicured, and the streets are as hushed as the complexities in the residents' lives. While Wilshire's husbands battle each other in the financial world, their wives manage their estates and raise the next elite generation. Some women are envied, some respected, and others simply tolerated. But regardless of where they stand, each woman is defined by the world she inhabits and bound by the unyielding social structure that surrounds her.

Rosalyn Barlow, the most envied woman in Wilshire, is waging a battle of social manipulation to silence the scandalous gossip that threatens her daughter's reputation while her self-made billionaire husband grows more and more distant in his young retirement. But for fourteen year-old Caitlin Barlow, navigating life as a teenager in a culture of wealth and sexual promiscuity has become far more perilous than either of her parents knows. Newcomer Sarah Livingston has nothing but disdain for everyone and everything around her and a growing terror at having another child in a world she's come to resent. As she is pulled into the Barlow family's storm, the walls begin to close in around her marriage and the life she once thought she wanted. And for Jacqueline Halstead, who's just discovered her husband is under investigation for fraud surrounding his hedge fund, saving her family from total ruin means doing the unthinkable - and shaking the Barlow family, Wilshire's insular community, and herself to the core.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Walker halfheartedly investigates the unhappy lives of women in a rich Connecticut suburb in her disappointing second outing (after Four Wives). Jacks Halstead is the materially comfortable wife of a hedge fund manager whose secretiveness and locked briefcase make her suspect that all is not well. But Jacks is “a survivor,” and soon she's seducing the very rich husband of Rosalyn Barlow, the community's social empress and, ostensibly, Jacks's friend. For her part, Rosalyn is an icy master manipulator, who needs to perform damage control after their 14-year-old daughter is caught performing fellatio on a boy at school. A pawn in Rosalyn's scheme is Sara, a guileless young newcomer bent on leaving the middle class behind. Throughout, the prose is pedestrian (“warm” smiles, “crisp” fall air) when it isn't ridiculous (“his tongue lay inside her mouth like a giant anchovy”) A banal ink-and-paper soap opera, this achieves neither the pluck of chick lit nor the glitziness of a Jackie Collins. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
Superrich sybarites cope with secrets, "teenstrangers" and recalcitrant contractors. Except for the relative wealth involved, the premise of Walker's second novel will remind readers of her first (Four Wives, 2008): A quartet of wives comes together to plan an event. Rosalyn, spouse of affable billionaire Barlow, is gatekeeper to the suburban social nirvana known as Winchester, Conn. Rookie social climber Sara, who gave up investigative journalism for marriage to Wall Street wunderkind Nick, is secretly on the pill; she's conflicted about having a second child. (Sara and Nick occupy a McMansion-in-progress, in thrall to a builder who is overbearing and way, way over budget.) Jacks fears, based on frequent forays into her husband David's locked briefcase, that his hedge fund has gone bust after a disastrous Vegas hotel deal and that the Feds, and possibly Mafia loan sharks, are after him. Contentedly married Eva plays only a minor role as fixer and occasionally, for reasons that are never adequately explained, agent provocateur. (Aware of Jacks' clandestine affair with Barlow, Eva engineers a coincidence that will redirect Rosalyn's jealous suspicions to Sara.) The wives' organizational juggernaut is deployed on behalf of Rosalyn's 14-year-old daughter Caitlin, a freshman at tony Winchester Academy who was caught fellating the school's hottie-in-chief, Kyle. Trying to save face, and battling demons from her own similar imbroglio decades before, Rosalyn spearheads a parents rally at which a prominent sexologist will warn that in the new teen mores relationships, commitment and responsibility are being replaced by the Friends with Benefits phenomenon. Caitlin, the "teenstranger" (herfather's exasperated term), is infatuated with Kyle, even as she senses she's just a puppet in mean-girl Amanda's preppy version of Dangerous Liaisons. An Internet chat room offers solace, but is Caitlin's virtual friend just another manipulator?Briskly paced, but the slight characterizations rely on overdone stereotypes of the uberclasses.
From the Publisher
"Wendy Walker's provocative insight into the minds and hearts of her characters’ discontent is alternately tender and shocking. Proving that money can never fill the empty places of the soul, Social Lives explores the suburban world of material excess with heartbreaking accuracy."

—Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author of Driftwood Summer and The Art of Keeping Secrets

“In Social Lives, Wendy Walker vividly reveals how the world of money and privilege affects the women who inhabit it, bringing to light the family dynamics it corrupts, the glittering cages it creates, and most poignantly, the lengths some will go to keep it in their grasps. A pitch-perfect novel for our times.”

—Liz Lange, Founder of Liz Lange Maternity

"This gripping tale of domestic intrigue and social aspirations in the super-wealthy suburbs of Connecticut will scandalize and enthrall you."

—Elise Chidley, author of Your Roots Are Showing

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JACQUELINE HALSTEAD RUSHED OUT of the bedroom to the study in the adjoining suite. The briefcase was on her husband’s desk, closed, and as had been his practice over the past several weeks, locked. That had been the first piece of hard evidence, this practice of securing his briefcase at home, though it had taken her far too long to see it for what it was. Evidence. The moodiness, the weight loss, the late nights had finally brought the picture into focus.

Her movements were carefully devised and practiced. She positioned herself around the briefcase, then made a note of the numbers on the lock: 70412. He was changing the combination daily now, though she knew from his demeanor that the distrust was not meant for her. She had a finely tuned sense for these things, for detecting the truth within an embrace, a look. No. He trusted her, she was certain. It was not the fear of being discovered that had him twisted in so many knots, but instead the guilt of a caring man. His wife, their children, and all that was at stake were the worries that were eating at him from the inside. And still the lock was changing.

Thinking back over the past months, she realized how tightly she had closed her eyes, not wanting to see, not wanting to believe that the life that had lifted her out of darkness could itself be in peril. She had become complacent over the years, trusting and as close to carefree as her history would allow. She had come to think of her past as something she had shed, like a snail outgrowing its shell and slipping into a new one. Her stupidity was maddening.

There was a saving grace. Her proficiency at seeing into the hidden corners of a life, especially her own, had not completely vanished. Not even with seventeen years of being Mrs. David Halstead. The wires of suspicion were still there inside her head, the ones set in place by a childhood of fear. And now thoughts moved across them freely, the consequences of different scenarios weighed. Plans of escape devised.

She took a long breath and listened for the shower. With her children and nanny at a movie, and their dog, Chester, locked outside, the house was unusually quiet. The shower, with its oversized head and powerful jets, was still pounding against the marble tiles, broken only by the body of her husband as he moved about, unaware that his wife was breaching his trust for the third time in the course of a week. With nothing but a towel wrapped around her slender body, her long dark hair dripping wet on her face, she turned the knobs with shaky hands. One after the other, she entered the digits of the fail-safe code that had come with the briefcase. She finished the code sequence and popped open the lock. Her movements quicker now that she was committed to the treason, she flipped through the papers, sorting out the work documents from those related to the U.S. Attorney’s investigation. The letter was still there, tucked deep within a back compartment. RE: INVESTIGATION OF HALSTEAD, WHITTIER, ET AL. Daniel’s firm. The government had not filed any charges, satisfied at the moment to make inquiries about the location of certain funds. Nothing had made it to the public eye. Not yet. And as far as she could tell, only a handful of the investors in David’s hedge fund suspected that their money might have been mishandled. None of this concerned her as profoundly as the name on that letter. She looked at it again, as though seeing it there in the bold black ink one more time would make her believe it any more or less than she did. DAVID HALSTEAD.

Working quickly, she found what she’d been looking for—a new letter. It was the first one in eight days, and it was not from the government. This one was from a law firm, one she’d heard of because of its reputation for high-profile criminal defense work. Dirty cops. Public corruption. And now her husband. She reached for a pencil, wrote down the name of the lawyer who’d signed the letter. She jotted down the numbers of federal statutes that were being threatened. There would be little time now, so she worked furiously, trying to analyze what she could, writing down the rest. She felt her stomach tighten, but she forced herself to continue as though she were not reading the blueprint for her own life’s destruction.

Finishing the last paragraph, she tucked the letter back where she’d found it, then made a quick study of the briefcase contents. She pulled some papers up, others down, until she was as certain as she could be that they were laid out the way she’d found them moments before. The sound of the shower dying to a drizzle made her stop by reflex, but there was no time. She willed herself to move faster now, to concentrate as she pulled down the lid of the case, clicked the clasps into place, then spun the number dials back to 70412.

Outside the study, she felt it again, the wave of panic as she held the door. Had it been open or closed, the study door? A small detail, but one more detail that would have to be explained. And it was just that very thing, the slow disintegration of explanations, that had given David away and could easily work toward her own exposure.

"Jacks?" He was calling for her. She’d left the bathroom the moment he’d stepped into the shower, and by any accounting, she should now be in her closet dressing for the nursery school benefit.

She didn’t answer—if she could hear him, she would have no excuse for her absence other than being in a place she had no business to be.

Think! But her mind was on the letter, the notes in her hand, and the work that needed to be done. She would scan their bank statements, the weblike array of the family’s personal investments, their 401(k)—their only nest egg after all this family-raising was said and done and they were put out to pasture by a world that favors the young. There was little equity in the house after the loan for the new wing they’d put on last year, and the severe drop in the housing market. Nothing remained in the checking account beyond what was needed to pay the bills. Where could it be, the money that was missing from the fund? And why, good God, why, would David take it?

Closed. She felt the air reach her lungs. The study door had been closed. She turned off the light then pulled the door shut, turning the knob to slide it into place without a sound.

The hallway was quiet again. With light steps, she returned to the bedroom where David was standing inside his closet, dry and partially clothed in boxers and a fresh undershirt. He was visibly distracted, and Jacks knew in that instant that she had not been discovered.

"Aren’t you going to get dressed?" he said to her without turning around. He was so thin now, she could see his ribs protruding through the cotton undershirt.

"I won’t be long." Sitting on the bed so she could slide the notes under the mattress, she kept her eyes glued to his back. She felt the sickness in her gut, the same restlessness of an insurgent that she’d had for days now. That was what she had become, an insurgent in her own life, a spy embedded within her own family. In every room it followed her—the bright, sun-filled kitchen, the cozy family room, the delicate pink enclaves of her three daughters. The places that had been her haven, that had held her in the embrace of comfort and safety, were now the places where she had to hide what she knew, what she felt. And with every breath her husband took, she waited for him to drop the bomb.

David was humming as he moved about his closet, surely out of nerves. He was a good man, no matter what he’d done. He loved their children as much as she did, and it would be killing him to know that their fate might be sealed by whatever crimes he had committed. Their reliance on him had been the unwritten contract between them, the standard agreement between men and women in places like Wilshire. Husband works. Wife tends to the house, children, and the husband’s needs. And she had done that, produced three children, overseen their care, managed the house. She had cultivated one of the most envied social lives in Wilshire. They were close friends with the most coveted family in this town, the Barlows, and that had been her doing. Hours of lunches, exercise classes, reading groups, and school benefits. From the book fairs to the nail salon, she had done the social research and placed herself wherever she needed to be. Getting to this position had been her job, and she had done it well.

That they would lose all of that was a given, and she didn’t care. Everything she’d done for them socially had been calculated to keep David happy so he could do his job—the one that brought home the money. And it was the money that paid for the rooms, the schools, the happily-ever-after. That was the end goal of the professional’s wife. They had nothing without the job, which was the very thing David had placed in jeopardy. Even if he avoided prison, no one would ever trust him again. And for Jacks, the working world was as far gone as her own childhood. It had been more than seventeen years since she’d earned a paycheck as a waitress. What would she put on her résumé now? Still attractive after bearing three children? What about her perfectly decorated house? Her trendsetting taste? Her honed sense of timing that made it possible for her to get so close to the Barlows? No. None of that would be worth a damned thing. After seventeen years, she would return to the workforce exactly where she’d left it. If they really lost everything, if David went to jail, how could she raise three children on the salary of a middle-aged waitress?

She was in her closet now, moving robotically from section to section as she chose the various items. Undergarments, skirt, blouse, shoes. She could smell David’s cologne drifting in from the bathroom, and it brought back, for the smallest moment, the feeling of him—David the man, beyond the provider, the father. There had been times when he’d held her and she’d felt herself lost in his strength, his certainty, when he’d been able to reach behind the curtains where she kept her true self, the one with the memories and the pain. And in those instances, she had believed that the struggle could finally end, that her life might actually be what it appeared from the outside. Good. Happy. Normal. She inhaled deeper and pulled back the tears that were starting to come. No matter what he meant to her outside all of this, she could not leave her life, and the lives of her girls, in his hands. She would not lay herself down in the arms of faith. That was not the way of a survivor.

She’d been through it in her head and kept coming back to the same conclusion. Seventeen years ago, she’d let go of her raft, the one that had kept her afloat but could never fight the tide, and climbed onto David’s cruise liner. If what she believed now was true—if that ship was about to go down, taking her and the kids along with it—then it was time to find a lifeboat.

Excerpted from Social Lives by Wendy Walker.
Copyright © 2009 by Wendy Walker.
Published in September 2009 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

Wendy Walker is a former commercial litigator and investment banker who now works at home in Connecticut writing and raising her children. She is the author of Four Wives, the editor of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power Moms, and is currently working on her third novel.

Wendy Walker is a former commercial litigator and investment banker who now works at home in Connecticut writing and raising her children.  She is the author of the novels Four Wives and Social Lives, and is the editor of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power Moms, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom, and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad. She is currently working on her next book.

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Social Lives 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
LC112648LC More than 1 year ago
Great author! Highly recommend!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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CanadianReader More than 1 year ago
A readable chick lit.. not the best - not the worst. Easy to read. Passed the time. Good escape !
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Winchester, Connecticut, the four wives meet to plan and host an event at Winchester Academy. Rosalyn, married to billionaire Barlow, is the social leader who decides who is in and who is not. Newcomer Sara gave up investigative reporting to marry Wall Street guru Nick, but has doubts about a second child while they are over budget in renovating their McMansion. After sneak peeks into her husband's locked attach case, Jacks fears that David's hedge fund has collapsed even as she worries the Feds are looking into potential illegal deals and loan sharks want instant payment. Eva likes her role as a wife and as a relationship saboteur. Eva knows Jacks and Barlow are having an affair; instead of ignoring it or outing them, she arranges for Queen Rosalyn to believe Sara is the other woman. Meanwhile Rosalyn worries about her fourteen years old daughter Caitlin going hot and heavy with student hunk Kyle; thus the event in which a sexologist will warn parents that teens prefer Friends with Benefits rather than commitments. Caitlin wants more from Kyle, but knows the student queen of mean Amanda is manipulating both of them while she turns to a friend on the net for advice and solace. This is an entertaining look at the affluent who asks themselves is that all there is as they are discontented with their lives. Rosalyn, Sara and Jacks are developed enough for their disgruntlement to seem genuine though few readers will feel any empathy towards the golden spoon crowd. The behind the scenes manipulator Eva is underdeveloped especially why she enjoys being Machiavelli in Connecticut. Still fans who like reading about the rich and not famous will want to read the SOCIAL LIVES of FOUR WIVES. Harriet Klausner