- - Tuesday, July 4, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A SIMPLE FAVOR

By Darcy Bell

Harper, $25.99, 304 pages

Moms of the world, take a break from blogging and give a thought to murder.

That is the message of this wickedly satirical psychological assessment of two apparently perfect suburban moms and how they made victims of each other. Queen of the flying fingers is Stephanie whose idol in life is Emily, a more glamorous mom who is everything that Stephanie isn’t.

Emily is a fashion executive with a handsome British husband called Sean and an adorable son called Nicky. She and Stephanie are best friends and their sons are best friends. Stephanie is also the mother, as it were, of a blog for marvelous moms who comfort and understand each other and are not always appreciated at home.

After a while, it turns out that the self-effacing Stephanie had a long and torrid incestuous relationship with her brother Chris who was killed in the same car accident as her husband Davis who disliked Chris and evidently for good reason.

Left a widow with a manageable mortgage, Stephanie finds consolation in her friendship with Emily, and when Emily suddenly disappears, she is distraught. She consoles herself by taking care of Emily’s son Nicky as well as her own son, Miles, and not to mention Sean, Emily’s allegedly bereft husband. He doesn’t like her cooking, but he is willing to accept her presence in bed.

This is where the sweet and loving friendship of Emily and Stephanie comes apart, and the book becomes even more interesting. Emily is the wicked one which makes her more interesting, and Stephanie is the naive partner who turns out to have enough backbone to take on Emily.

As the plot moves along, with heavy inserts of mom-isms as Stephanie reached out to moms internationally, Emily becomes the fascinating monster who’s goal in life was not to keep Sean and Nicky happy but to cash in on a multi-million dollar insurance policy that depended on her demise. And then her body is located in a lake in Maine, except it isn’t her body, which any astute reader could have predicted. What almost nobody knew about Emily was that she had an identical twin sister who was into drugs, liquor, men and anything else you might mention.

The meeting between Emily and her departed sister is one of the most interesting chapters in the book as it becomes clear that they are genuinely fond of each other and are also entirely aware of their mutual evil. Emily is prepared to watch her sister die, but only at her own convenience because there is that insurance policy to keep in mind. As well as the insurance agent who has proved to be a bit of a nuisance and has to be disposed of in a convenient car accident.

There is of course the problem of Stephanie who has become reconciled to the fact that her beloved Emily is a monster. What really makes the plot move along is that Stephanie is her own kind of monster, and even worse, she is a bore. The only person who really loved Stephanie was her brother Chris who most likely met his end as a result of the efforts of Stephanie’s cuckolded husband. And while there is no doubt about the fact that Emily is evil, Stephanie becomes more interesting because she maintains to the end her dreadful sugary blog aimed at moms who share her problem of not being appreciated by their husbands or children. Stephanie never gives up.

There is a certain satisfaction in the denouement in which the ice-blooded Emiy discovers that her fate my hinge on a stolen diamond ring which she stole, but feels she earned. And what Emily really cares about is excitement, so she isn’t too upset that that the local police are more tenacious and intelligent than she expected. She starts packing for her next adventure and Stephanie goes on blogging.

You might say, ‘here’s to the moms of Stephanie’s world!’

• Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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