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"A hilarious book about the city vs. suburb divide."
New York Post, a Must-Read Book
"City Mouse is a sharp and sophisticated novel of suburban life with a narrative voice that is equal parts witty, observant, and vulnerable. A wonderful debut!
Susan Isaacs, New York Times best-selling author
"For every city mom who fears death by suburbiaand for every suburban mom who wonders if it's just herthis insightful, funny trip into the secrets behind those picket fences is required reading."
Maureen Sherry, author of Opening Belle
"City Mouse reminds mothers of that priceless lesson: the grass is always greener...and maybe even alcohol-soaked Astroturf. I tore through this book like a bored, competitive housewife tears through her Xanax."
Faith Salie, author of Approval Junkie
"Lender sharply portrays the corrupt privilege of upper-middle-class suburbanites, and with a twist of her pen, the Stepford Wives take the upper hand over their husbands...the climactic explosion takes everyone by surprise. A bracingly tart portrait of suburban hell."
"Lender's enlightening, beautifully plotted novel dives deep into the notion of having it all while playing with the shallow notions of the American dream."
"This defines a beach read for me! So relatable to our own lives as it is all about mom trying to find out exactly where she fits in the in the scheme of suburbiaall that goes along with it. Plus, when a book is described as The Stepford Wives meets Bad Moms, how can you go wrong?"
Mom of the Year (blog), included in 20 Best Summer Books
"It's not long before neighborhood secrets give away to scandal, proving the grassand the Astroturfisn't always greener on the other side of the white-picket fence."
"With real estate prices on the rise, Jessica, Aaron, and their kids are forced to ditch their chichi Manhattan digs for the suburbs. Though she had her worries, Jessica settles into her new normal with easebut when she embarks on a moms-only trip with her new galpals, she ends up learning a few eye-opening lessons that spur her to reevaluate her life."
"Lender's debut novel is positively irresistible. It's hilarious and insightful and just the type of book any city girl needs to tote to her vacation rental this summer...even with three kids in tow."
Priced out of their Manhattan neighborhood, Jessica and Aaron move with their young daughters to the one place Jessica swore she'd never go: the suburbs. But to Jessica's surprise, life in the commuter belt makes a great first impression. She quickly falls in with a clique of helpful mom friends who welcome her with pitchers of margaritas, neighborhood secrets, and a pair of hot jeans that actually fit.
Still, it's hard to keep up in a crowd where everyone competes for the most perfectly manicured home and latest backyard gadgets. And what's worse, as the only working mom in her circle, Jessica sometimes feels disconnected and alone. So she's thrilled when she's invited to a moms-only weekend at the beach, which she assumes will mean new opportunities for real talk and bonding. Instead, the trip turns into a series of eye-opening lessons, and Jessica must decide if she's strong enough to be honest with herself about the sort of life she really wants.
|Product dimensions:||8.20(w) x 5.20(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Stacey Lender started her career as a roadie and rose through the ranks from luggage schlepper to marketing executive for entertainment brands including Radio City Music Hall, USA Network, Madison Square Garden, Sesame Street Live , the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and One World Observatory at the top of One World Trade Center. She grew up in the suburbs of New York City with a god-awful perm and later graduated from Cornell University. Today she lives in Manhattan and Connecticut with her husband and two daughters, and has traveled to all fifty states. City Mouse is her first novel. For more information, visit staceylender.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Stacey Lender
Akashic BooksCopyright © 2017 Stacey Lender
All rights reserved.
It was the bathroom that finally started us house hunting on the weekends up in Westchester. Sharon and Dave had just moved to Scarsdale from the city and I swear during brunch they slipped Aaron some suburban Kool-Aid with their day-old bagels. While the kids played on a giant plastic gym set in their cavernous empty living room, they proudly gave us a tour of their five-bedroom Colonial, closet by closet. Aaron seemed bored, as usual, but when we entered the en suite master bathroom, complete with double sinks and a rainfall shower, I heard him gasp. "A separate little room for the toilet!" he said, eyes glowing wide with bathroom envy.
"You know," Sharon said, "our builder is working on plans for the house next door."
"We're not quite ready," I replied.
"But we can take the number, just in case," Aaron said.
I shot him a look. Take the number? Are you kidding?
Sharon pounced on the opening like an eager puppy. "You guys would just love it here! It's such a great community."
I glanced at my watch. It had taken her less than an hour to get to the "C" word, which meant I had won the over-under bet that Aaron and I had started making on our visits to our recently relocated friends. As if following some ecumenical suburban script, right after the house tour came the crowing about the community. The state-ranked public pre-K their twins were attending (with only eighteen kids per class!), the annual Quaker Ridge neighborhood picnic (with pony rides!), and, the icing, a special pilot composting program. Sharon gestured excitedly to a little green plastic bin on the counter next to the sink. "It reduces our trash output by nearly a third!" "Impressive," I said. Excited by the garbage. In less than two months and twenty miles out of the city, was it possible she was actually turned on by her own trash?
Nearly all of our married friends had embarked on the Great Migration with their toddlers in tow, over rivers and up highways to Westchester, Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey, to Short Hills and Chappaqua, Westport, Manhasset, Rye Brook, Milburn, Stamford, and Montclair. Usually it was the birth of their second child that initiated their quests for great rooms and garages and gargantuan cedar jungle gyms. Led by a bevy of pied piper brokers, they seemed to find everything on their wish lists in abundance, in the hamlets to the north and east and west of Manhattan, all within an hour's commute.
We were still happy living in the city, although I knew we'd be a whole lot happier once we finally moved out of our one-bedroom rental. We had been looking for a bigger apartment for nearly two years, ever since the day our daughter Phoebe moved from sleeping in a bassinet to a crib and we put up a temporary wall to create a sleeping alcove for her in our bedroom. Despite the thin slab of plywood privacy, she was still less than ten feet away, and our new routine of half-clothed, quiet quickie sex began — Shhhhh, don't wake the baby ... Yes, don't stop, right there, I'm ... SHHHH! DON'T WAKE THE BABY! — an act that may have technically qualified as sex, but barely registered as satisfying.
Our search started out with a keen sense of urgency, but our timing couldn't have been worse: right at the peak of Manhattan's real estate market. We thought we had saved enough for a down payment on a comfortable two-bedroom in our Upper West Side neighborhood, one with hardwood floors, an eat-in kitchen, and maybe an extra little room for a den or office. But we quickly discovered that apartments with those "high end" amenities were selling for two million dollars. For a two-bedroom apartment! No matter how we did the math, we didn't have even close to that kind of money. Brokers urged us to look in emerging Manhattan neighborhoods where the prices were slightly more reasonable, like Harlem or Hell's Kitchen. But we didn't want to settle. We loved the Upper West Side and figured at some point the real estate frenzy would die down. So we agreed to make do in our small space and wait for the apartment cupid to strike, never expecting to still be looking two frustrating years later while our firstborn slumbered behind the makeshift wall. And now we had baby number two back there, to boot.
Sharon freshened up our coffees while Dave had Aaron mesmerized with a demonstration of how smoothly their custom kitchen drawers glided to an automatic close. Maybe Aaron was blinded by all of that stainless: the cabinets were stainless, the dishwasher was stainless, the fridge was stainless. Even the backsplash was crafted of hundreds of silver rectangles, lined up like a wall of antiseptic armor. I thought kitchens were supposed to be warm and inviting; this one made me feel like I was in a haute designer morgue.
I couldn't wait to leave.
"I think I hear Madison," I said. I had left her in the foyer when we arrived, still snug in her car seat, not wanting to wake her from her midmorning nap.
As I walked over, Madison's eyes fluttered open and she smiled her usual gummy grin. "Morning, Maddie," I whispered, and kissed her forehead. Everyone said she looked just like Aaron, with his signature cheek dimples and, so far, his hazel blue eyes too. I wondered if they would stay. Phoebe's eyes had also started out that bluish-green hue but by her first birthday had turned almost as dark brown as mine.
"Madison's just adorable," Sharon said as I walked back into the kitchen. Through the bay window, I could see Dave was now showing Aaron around the yard out back. "How old is she now, four months?"
"Just turned five," I answered as I held Madison in one arm and with the other ran tap water into a bottle prefilled with powdered formula.
"I miss that age."
"Are you guys still thinking about a third?" She glanced outside. "Well, actually ..." she said, and I immediately knew.
"Ten weeks. But don't tell Dave I told you, we're not announcing it until we get past twelve. To be safe."
"That's great news, I'm so happy for you!" I said. And I was; she had been trying for a while to get pregnant again. I gave her a mini-group hug with Madison. "How are you feeling?"
"Pretty good, a little nauseous. Thank god it's only one this time. I'm really hoping for a girl. Alexis is such an angel compared to Henry, the little terror. You're so lucky to have two girls."
"Yeah, until they're thirteen and fifteen — then we're screwed," I said. Just as I was about to wonder out loud how their au pair was doing watching three kids under the age of four in the living room, I heard a wail. "Will you hold her for a sec? I need to grab a diaper and check on Phoebe."
Two hours later we walked out through their pristine garage where a huge Elfa shelving unit housed hundreds of rolls of toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, plastic utensils, and giant containers of ketchup, mustard, and Tide HE.
"You guys certainly have room for it all," Aaron said, eyeing the shrine to Costco and, next to it, Dave's racing bike dangling from a hanging rack.
I strapped the girls into their car seats and hugged Sharon goodbye. "Thanks so much for having us," I said. Feel good, I mouthed.
Then came the hard-sell close.
"Really, Aaron, call our builder about the house next door," Sharon said, slipping him a piece of paper. "It's best to reach him on his cell."
Please, please, move where we moved, I almost heard her thinking. We're desperate for confirmation we made the right choice.
"And let's have dinner in the city soon," she added, though I doubted those plans would ever make it from the driveway to her calendar.
On the ride home, Aaron couldn't stop talking about the house. "And did you see Dave's study, with the retractable TV?"
"Yes, I saw the study," I sighed, staring out the window at the blur of trees lining the Hutchinson River Parkway. "Don't you think they seemed different somehow? It's like they moved and poof — Sharon's a housewife channeling 1950. Can you believe she quit her job?"
"She always said how much she hated being an analyst."
"But she just passed her Series 7 tests! All those months of studying seem like such a waste now. I guess with the commute and a third it would be too complicated."
"A third?" Aaron glanced at me, then back at the road.
"Yep — she's pregnant. But don't tell Dave I told you — they're keeping it on the QT for a couple more weeks."
"Three kids. Wow." He squinted and I could see his lips turn into a frown under his weekend stubble. "Well, their house is certainly big enough. It's not like they're living on top of each other in a one-bedroom apartment." He was well past the stage of hiding his displeasure about the glacial pace of our apartment search, but I wasn't in the mood to engage in yet another argument about it.
"We're seeing that new listing tomorrow; remember the one I told you about on 92nd Street? And another one a little farther north," I said. "But maybe we should reconsider the idea of a bigger rental. It would give us another bedroom, and more time to find a place we really love." And to make sure we're not overextending ourselves in case your company doesn't make it through the end of the year, I thought, and then wished I hadn't. Aaron didn't need any negative work karma, especially not now.
"I've told you a thousand times — we are not moving to another rental. We've been throwing away our money for way too long as it is. I want to buy. It's time."
"Renting again isn't my first choice either. I'm just saying it might make sense for right now, until the market calms down a little. Maybe we could find a six-month lease," I tried. He didn't look the least bit convinced.
It was silent in the backseat and I turned around to find both Phoebe and Madison dozing in a tandem afternoon nap. Riding in the car always put them out, and for a second I thought about waking them up; we finally had them on a sleep schedule that got them down and kept them down most nights, and a late-day nap had the potential to erase many agonizing weeks of sleep training. But I was thankful for the quiet and took the opportunity to turn off the Frozen soundtrack and switch to the classic rock station for a rare moment of audio relief.
"It's crazy the way we're living," Aaron continued. "And we don't have to, Jess. Wouldn't it be great to have a backyard for Phoebe and Madison to run around in?"
"We have Central Park," I said. "Our yard is acres bigger than that patch of green behind Sharon and Dave's house."
"Central Park isn't ours." I felt the speech about to come. "I can't help it, I want more space," he said, his voice sounding stronger than usual. "I want a study. I want a place to eat that's not in our living room. We've been looking at all these apartments and haven't found anything that even comes close to what we want. I've been thinking about it a lot, and I really feel like we should buy a house."
A house?! My brain actually froze for a second. After I was able to process that, yes, the person sitting next to me was still my husband, and yes, he had just said he thought we should buy a house, I found myself responding the way I usually did when I heard something I didn't want to hear — I rejected it. "You don't want a house," I said quickly. "A city boy like you? Maybe breathing in all that fresh air today over-oxygenated your brain? Don't panic, though. Once we get back into the pollution, I'm sure you'll be right back to your normal self."
"I'm not kidding, Jess. We have to think about what's best for our future, for Phoebe and Madison's future. Don't you want the girls to grow up with their own bedrooms?"
Those words were straight out of Sharon's mouth, not Aaron's. If Mom says no, go ask Dad. Pregnant or not, I was pissed at her. She had no right to be working Aaron behind my back.
"Right now we just need to focus on getting them out of our bedroom," I responded evenly, trying to stay calm. "And what I really think is best for Phoebe and Madison is for them to actually see us. I'd much rather live in a smaller apartment in the city than have both of us commute for two hours every day. I barely get to spend enough time with them during the week as it is. And you always say how you love being able to jump in a cab and be home in ten minutes to kiss them good night. You'd never get to do that if we lived in the suburbs. You'd never even see the girls."
But my commute touché didn't seem to dissuade him.
"Think about it — if we had a house, there'd be room for you to have an office. Maybe you could finally convince your boss to let you work from home one day a week."
Aaron knew that since Madison was born I had been fantasizing about working Fridays from home. I didn't want to stay home full-time — not that I could if I wanted to. With Aaron working at yet another start-up, my salary was a necessity. But the truth was, unlike many of my friends who took the opportunity after giving birth to quit jobs they loathed, I actually liked mine. I liked waking up in the morning and putting on clothes that were Dry Clean Only. I liked having business cards with the words Account Director typed neatly under my maiden name. But now with two children, two babies still, really, I felt like that one extra day at home would tilt the week ever so slightly into a better balance. The Broadway theater clients our agency serviced didn't run on a regular nine-to-five schedule anyway; I could easily jump on a marketing conference call during nap time and approve ad copy on my phone while at playdates or on visits to the Central Park Zoo. A bunch of working moms I knew had Fridays off, including my best friend Liza, but she was one of Kate Spade's top handbag designers and probably could have negotiated working Monday through Friday from home if she felt like it. She had been helping me write a proposal to present to my boss, but I had been too nervous to ask, too afraid of hearing no.
"Plus," Aaron said, taking my silence as an opportunity to push it, "we could have a whole house for the same money as an apartment, maybe even less. Dave said the house next door to his is slated to break ground the end of next month and will be ready by the summer."
I couldn't believe their slick sales job had worked so effectively on him. "There is no way we are moving next door to Sharon and Dave!" I exclaimed, feeling my face get hot. "I know he's one of your best friends and I like Sharon and all — but take a second to think about what it would be like to live next door to them, to see them every single day for the rest of our lives. Walking down the driveway to get the paper and having to make small talk when you're barely awake: Morning, Sharon. Morning, Dave — over and over for the next forty years like Groundhog Day, only worse, we'd actually be living it, for real."
Aaron laughed, and I felt a little relieved. "Okay, okay. You're right. So maybe not the house next door. But you've got to admit, we could get so much more for our money outside the city."
We could get more of nearly everything outside the city. More rooms, more shelf space, more outdoor space, more personal space, more light, more heat, more water, more air — there was no disputing there was more of all of it across Manhattan's moat. But I didn't want any of it. I had been raised on a suburban street much like Sharon and Dave's, twenty minutes north of them in Mount Kisco. I had grown up with the space and the dog and the bike and the aching desire to get my learner's permit on my sixteenth birthday. When my parents called me sophomore year of college and broke the news that they had boxed up my high school mementos and were moving to a tidy little condo a block from the beach in Miami, another person might have mourned the end of an era. But I felt zero regret about severing my suburban ties for good. In my mind's eye, I had always envisioned my future in Manhattan. And until now, I'd thought that Aaron felt the same way.
Excerpted from City Mouse by Stacey Lender. Copyright © 2017 Stacey Lender. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
City Mouse is a fast-paced novel that I couldn't put down. I brought it with me on a two-week trip but finished it in four days, leaving me wanting more and scrambling for another read. I was immediately drawn to Jessica and her world. Her struggles to make the perfect home for her family, to find a place in their new community and balance work with being a good mother and a wife are portrayed with a winning combination of humor and deeply affecting tension/anxiety. For any mother who has questioned the big life decisions of where to live, where to work, where to send your kids to school, and who to hang out with on the weekend, this is a great read. Fans of Allison Pearson's I Don't Know How She Does It will also enjoy this winning debut. I look forward to more from author Stacey Lender.