I read this book this past summer, part of my vacation collection and with holiday vacations coming up, I thought it would be a great time to blog about it. I first learned about Primates of Park Avenue while reading the New York Times Book Review over coffee and pastries (I drank tea) in the courtyard of the New York Palace Hotel on a Sunday morning in June 2015. Seemed fitting. It’s a memoir about the women of the Upper East Side and seemed from the review that it would make for a great summer read. I missed it in 2015 but couldn’t resist picking it up ahead of my vacation this past summer. It was as the reviews promised – fun, fascinating and entertaining – but also so much more than that.
Wednesday Martin is both a writer and a social researcher. I’ve posted a link to her site below because I think she’s fascinating. She moves into the Upper East Side of Manhattan with her husband and son from downtown and the memoir tells of her experiences getting her son into the right daycare, making playdates, girls nights and so much more. It was full of great gossip but went much deeper. As Martin weaves her experiences as a mommy on the Upper East Side with actual examples of anthropological studies of primates, I realized that much of what she experiences was part of being a member of a group of women. In her case, mothers of a certain well-off and well known neighborhood but many of her observations could apply to groups of women (and girls) in many situations. Her observations helped her in her situation but got me thinking about some of my own experiences as I read along.
I’ve been really lucky to have wonderful friends throughout my life but I can recall experiences I had in larger groups of girls that gave me pause. Some of the things Martin explained about her own experience as well as other mammal groups around the world gave me a lightbulb moment. She wrote about intrasexual competitive traits:
“Intrasexual competition – competing with other species members of your own sex – is a widespread evolutionary selection pressure…Mostly, female mammals – be they mice or chimps or Homo sapiens – are competing, when they need to, for breeding opportunities and to attract preferred mates, just as males do. But for females, the expression of aggression is context specific.” (Martin, 138)
As I continued to read on and learn more about what Martin experienced while adjusting to her new situation, I thought about experiences I had and I recalled a somewhat pivotal moment in my life and I thought at the time I was being overly sensitive. While reading this book, I think there was definitely some validity to my feelings and the direction I went in was the right one.
All that aside, Primates of Park Avenue was a fascinating glimpse into a very different world but it was also heartbreaking and heartwarming at times. And often, very funny. Definitely worth a read and perfect for the beach vacation you might have planned this holiday season!