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Dealing with the overwelming stress of modern living can be fun--for the reader

Book Review: Stressed in Scottsdale by Marcia Fine

Jean Rubin, Marcia Fine's portrait of the twenty-first century woman of a certain age, returns in Stressed in Scottsdale, for another romp through the trials and tribulations of frazzled modern life. She has a client that's unhappy with her proposal for a gender friendly human relations policy. Her son has lost his job and wants to borrow money, so he and his wife can have another child through in vitro fertilization. Her father has passed on, and her mother needs to be moved to an assisted living facility. Her dog needs an operation. Her friends all seem to be dealing with aging much more calmly and effectively. And on top of it all, her husband gets her involved in the local legislative election working for the Green Party against the incumbent Republican, who just happens to be Jean's old nemesis, the woman who got her fired from her job at the community college, Flora Boudreaux. Jean may not be Job, but her life is overwhelming.

Besides the real hassles, there are the imagined stresses and annoyances. Her girl friends have expensive jewelry, rife for thievery; she has nothing worth stealing. They wear killer heels; she wears Birkenstocks. Modern gadgetry makes her feel inadequate. She can't remember to take all the things she needs when she leaves the house. Worst of all, when her husband begins dieting and buying new underwear, she begins to suspect his fidelity — there is, after all, that thirty-something professor who seems unduly taken with him at Green Party meetings. No doubt about it, Jean Rubin is stressed. No doubt about it she is in Scottsdale. Ergo, she is Stressed in Scottsdale.

The trouble is that, despite the comic tone she tries to take about all the things that stress her, after a hundred or so pages, the reader gets tired of the kvetching. Enough is enough. Besides she is not exactly Job. She may have a lot to deal with, but most of what she is constantly complaining about, seems trivial when you think about people with real problems. It would be one thing if Fine were satirizing the Jean Rubins of the world, the people whose biggest problem in life is that they can't figure out how to use their Treos, but that isn't the case. If anything, Jean is presented as serio-comically, if never quite adequately dealing with a world that overwhelms her, while most of those who do manage to deal with it more or less adequately seem to be the ones being satirized.

Besides, since the reader sees everything through her eyes, while she may be a comic figure, she is always a sympathetic one. Moreover, she does live in an absurd world that needs to be ridiculed.

Sometimes the satire is fairly harsh. Jean takes some shots at politicians: Republicans, land developers and climate change deniers rather vigorously, Green Party types and environmentalists more gently. She skewers writing conferences, New Age therapies, and conspicuous consumers, even when some of them are supposedly her best friends. Sometimes the satire is gentler. She pokes fun at modern child rearing practices and the perils of grandparenting. She looks at the problems of old age with an affectionate despair. She has some laughs at the expense of males who can ignore daily hassles by watching the history channel and playing golf.

While Fine does manage some laughs, the book could use a stronger plot line. The narrative is discursive. There are several plot lines, but they lack any real cohesion. They are brought in every once in awhile, dropped for awhile, and then gone back to. They don't seem to be related to one another, and even when some resolution comes about at the end, and some of the lines are tied together, the resolution seems forced. A page turning plot is not what this book has to offer. Fine is at her best in a short set piece — six pages on a botched mammogram appointment, a lengthy passage on a Day of the Dead party, a visit to an Asian manicure salon, and a nice weekend at a Red Rock writer's conference. There are occasional laugh lines: "The Louis Vuittons are spreading through the store like an infectious disease." Hair is piled up on her the head of her nemesis like a "road-kill skunk." She comes out of a bathtub like "an ecological mermaid without a fishtail." In the end, this is a book where the whole is not quite equal to the sum of some of its parts.

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