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Piece of Workby Laura Zigman
Synopses & Reviews
Toddlers, Julia remembered hearing someone say, were like big tyrants of tiny countries. Demanding, insatiably needy, and all ego and id, her son was still by far the best boss she's ever had.
Julia Einstein knew that being a stay-at-home mom had a lot in common with her former job as a celebrity publicist — endless, irrational demands, little to no appreciation, and constant hustle. But it isn't until her husband is laid off from his job and she's forced to go back to work and resurrect screen legend Mary Ford's career, that Julia realizes how very much she prefers an actual child to a formerly famous client.
For example, her child doesn't steal ten-thousand dollar leather coats from photo shoots. Nor does he require a constant, fresh supply of a soda that is no longer in production. He doesn't curse at Julia, pronounce her name "Einstein" with a thick layer of disdainful irony, or incessantly poke at her with his index finger while reciting odd variations on childlike rhymes like a psych patient on day pass. With a mortgage looming and three years out of the business, however, Julia knows she has no choice but to make Mary's comeback a success. Even if it kills her.
Which at this pace, is a possibility. But if there is one thing Julia has learned from her time off from the office, it's that sheer determination can solve almost anything. After all, if she can get through suburban living with its uncontrollable clutter and playground politics, how hard can it be to resuscitate the career of an aging, desperate hasbeen? And get over the fact that her husband is a better stay-at-home mom than Julia ever was?
"Zigman (Animal Husbandry) visits the popular chick lit landscape of Manhattan public relations, but with a less glamorous twist. The publicist is 36-year-old Julia Einstein, a Connecticut housewife who has been relishing her life as a stay-at-home mom to toddler son Leo. When her husband, Peter, loses his job, Julia is thrust back into the world she left behind. After calling on a savvy and successful friend for advice, Julia ends up at John Glom Public Relations, a 'firm that handles desperate has-beens,' where she must work with actress Mary Ford, billed as a 'client, paying for the right to suck the life out of us.' That Julia finds an antidote for Mary's dwindling fame is predictable, but the process generates its share of chuckles. Ford is ceaselessly cruel, but her vulnerability flickers tellingly beneath her veneer of icy disgust. Julia's portrait of motherhood is overly sentimental, and her references to Leo as 'The Scoob' are doggedly cute. Julia's swift handling of potential PR disasters make for an amusing read, and the ending is just as happy as can be. (Sept. 25)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Guys — how to get them, how to get over them — have been at the heart of every Laura Zigman novel since 'Animal Husbandry' appeared in 1998. Her latest, 'Piece of Work,' is no exception, except that this time the male is 3 years old and obsessed with creepy little trains. Julia Einstein's three-month maternity leave from her high-powered PR firm has stretched to three years. She loves... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the simple if mindless routine she shares with her young son, Leo. Too soon, however, Julia's dreams of endless mornings eating organic snacks and watching public television cartoons come crashing down. Her husband, Peter, has been laid off, and Julia, now several dress sizes larger and with an intellect as airy as Pirate's Booty ('the rich man's Cheetos'), is forced to leave Leo and return to work. Hired by the John Glom agency, a PR firm that specializes in the comebacks of has-beens, Julia finds herself baby-sitting former film legend Mary Ford, as full of tantrums and demands as any 3-year-old. Mary chants hurtful nursery rhymes and steals pricey clothes from photo shoots and has driven away other publicists and her own children; in short, she doesn't play well with others. While Julia is enduring a slimy boss, an impossible client and desperate loneliness, back at home Peter is turning his organizational skills to the 'flow' of their house and neighborhood preschool, auditioning to be 'her understudy, her replacement, her own personal "All About Eve."' Mary is poised to make her comeback, a la Elizabeth Taylor, with a new signature fragrance, Legend. But Legend is uber-stinky, the public doesn't bite, and Julia and Mary find themselves increasingly downgraded from first class and the Hay-Adams to coach and the Disney World Magic Kingdom Hotel. When PETA finds out that Legend was tested on animals and Mary's estranged activist daughter jumps on board, Julia uses the lessons she learned as a stay-at-home mom to save the day and scatter, like scented magazine blow-in cards, happy endings for everyone. 'Piece of Work' is ostensibly grounded in reality: Zigman gleefully names such real-life has-beens as Meredith Baxter-Birney, David Cassidy and Justine Bateman, and her characters frequent the familiar box stores of suburbia (there are so many plugs for the Container Store, I wondered if Zigman had been secretly hired by them). But the plot is pure Hollywood fiction. It's difficult to believe that Julia, a 15-year PR veteran, could be so clueless after only three years at home, and the PETA/Mommy Dearest complication at the end feels both contrived and cliched. Too often, Zigman hammers home her points, as in Mary Ford's 'Merchant of Venice' — inspired soliloquy delivered at the Magic Kingdom wildlife safari: 'I traded what should have been most precious to me — my children, my family — not for a wilderness of monkeys, but for just one stupid monkey. Fame. As short-lived and fleeting and fickle as it always was.' The society that creates celebrity and discards it, that forces parents to choose between work and family, goes basically unexamined. Zigman does better grappling with the upheaval of gender roles and the ways a woman's priorities shift with motherhood. Julia, who used to squire the likes of Ted Danson and Shirley MacLaine across country, is now jealous of being stuck at work while the rest of her family gets to go to Costco, and she can discuss what her young son ate for lunch with all the seriousness of global warming and geopolitics. As the mother of two 3-year-old boys, I found myself tearing up over a tenderly mundane telephone conversation that Julia has with Leo about his new train while she's stuck in a sterile hotel room with an abusive has-been. It's a moment sure to wring the heart of any woman who has ever left her children for a business trip — or book tour. If Zigman's stale plot is unworthy of the emotional issues she tackles far more faithfully and engagingly, 'Piece of Work' is still a sweet and often funny book, just the sort of thing you'll be happy you tucked into your bag when you find yourself waiting in line at, say, the Container Store. Sheri Holman is the author of four novels including 'The Dress Lodger' and 'The Mammoth Cheese.'" Reviewed by Sheri Holman, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Vulnerable yet persistent, Zigman's plucky heroine succeeds through an engaging combination of warmth, wit, and wisdom." Booklist
"This is a humorous and well-written look at what happens when the girl with the great single life gets the hot guy and becomes a mom." Library Journal
From the bestselling author of Animal Husbandry comes a touching and hilarious novel about a stay-at-home mom reentering the working world as a celebrity publicist with the client from hell.
About the Author
Laura Zigman is the author of Animal Husbandry, Dating Big Bird, and Her. She spent ten years working in book publishing in New York. Her pieces have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today. She lives outside of Boston.
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