My first reaction to the cover of Alisa Kwitney's sneakily clever Flirting in Cars was, "What the f***? This is a fricking Chick Lit Book! They told me it was about a mom dealing with her kid's learning disability! I can't believe I agreed to read a book that I would be ashamed to be seen with in public!"
Books are one of my lifelines, and it pains me to waste time on crappy or frivolous stories. As a result of wanting two kids, ending up with three, and then having one diagnosed with autism, I have found myself in a grueling parenting netherworld whose soundtrack is mostly the soft dribbling of my brain leaking out of my ears. I love my family, but I live a less-than-interesting life. While I will occasionally search for inspiration in the stories of special needs parents who raise hell and/or find peace, I do not otherwise care to read about contemporary women whose lives are compelling enough to spawn a novel. Especially a life that can be summed up with a pair of red heels*:
Flirting in Cars' Zoë Goren is not a chick lit heroine. She is a single parent in her forties; she is intelligent, centered, and refreshingly neurosis-free. She speaks several languages and is an established journalist. She is an independent woman who likes but doesn't moon over men. She isn't waifish, and she isn't worried about it; in fact she is extremely comfortable with both her body and her sexuality. She could care less about shopping or shoes. (If she lived in my area, I would probably follow her around and ask if we could be friends.)
Not to say that Zoë doesn't have worries. Her fractured relationship with her parents is a source of pain. She has to move out of her beloved Manhattan so that her dyslexic daughter Maya can attend a school that helps learning disabled children gain classroom confidence and skills. Also, Zoë both can't and won't drive, which is a problem in her new rural home (hence the title, sort of -- Zoë has to take driving lessons, and finds herself getting involved with Mack, the local who offers them).
Much of the story focuses on Zoë's adjustments to rural life, and her relationship with Mack; there is some not-so-subtle lampooning of both corrupt rural politicians and rich "weekenders." But Ms. Kwitney also contemplates the mindsets of soldiers and veterans, the workings of and our interactions with automobiles, Iraqi culture, environmental issues, the politics of national vs. local businesses, and religion. All of which I enjoyed, and which helped me ignore that awful cover.
I was disappointed by how little of the book actually focused on Maya's dyslexia, or Zoë's somewhat hands-off manner of dealing with it. However the small sections that did describe Maya and her school treated the subjects of learning disabilities frankly, in a sympathetic manner that I hope enlightens both the parents in the book and its readers.
Those who go fishing in the pink section of the bookstore will find Flirting in Cars breezy enough to carry them away to the wonderful land of Women Having Hot, Well-Written Sex With Men Who May Actually Deserve Them. I hope those readers don't mind learning quite a bit about contemporary politics, environmental issues, and special education along the way.
*These shoes may actually be called mules.
This review sponsored by MotherTalk.