The Wise Women
By Gina Sorell
HarperCollins, $26.99, 335 pages
Wendy Wise has been a popular advice columnist for four decades. But her daughters, Barb and Clementine, have opposing views about the value of her advice—to readers and especially to them. The former has a testy relationship with her mother (whom she calls “Wendy”), while the latter remains a (mostly) dutiful daughter.
The mother-daughter and sibling relationships get complicated when all three women enter transitional phases. Clementine discovers that her ambitious but impractical husband Steve has taken the money she has given him to buy their Brooklyn house and used it for a carbonated vegetable water venture he is convinced will make him rich. To make matters worse, Steve has disappeared. Clementine has her hands full trying to make rent and take care of her sensitive six-year-old, Jonah.
Barb’s architecture firm is experiencing financial issues and her relationship with fitness trainer Jill is on the rocks after Jill cheated on her. Barb also has decidedly mixed feelings about designing residential towers of shoebox condos despite the relentless demand for housing in Brooklyn.
Wendy is in Florida with new boyfriend Harvey when she senses her daughters need her problem-solving skills (though neither has spoken with her in a while). Her surprise arrival receives a mixed reaction from Barb and Clementine, who soon learn that their mother has been keeping some important secrets from them.
The novel follows the three Wise women as they try to untangle their personal and professional lives. While this synopsis might make it sound like The Wise Women is a sobering read about the struggles of modern life, it’s a fast-paced, sweet, and often funny story. Sorell brings these complex women to life with heart, wit, and insight into their difficult circumstances. While there are perhaps a few too many crises hitting these characters at the same time, the deft plotting, sharp dialogue, and (mostly) sympathetic characters carry you along.
The Wise Women also has a lot on its mind: secrets, lies, and misunderstandings in relationships; gentrification in Brooklyn; the price we’re willing to pay to chase our dreams; the sacrifices parents make for their children; the challenges of getting older; the power of social media influencers; and more. It’s also a love letter to New York City, especially Brooklyn.
I spent a few hours completely engaged in these characters’ lives, watching them try to rebuild their various relationships and figure out the right way forward. The many conflicts play out in satisfying (and occasionally surprising) ways. The Wise Women is a novel that captures these crazy times in a breezy but thought-provoking manner.