The Admissions (& Other Books)

Read some good books over the March break.

First up, I inhaled Doug Kennedy’s The Blue Hour.  Doug is a college classmate who has garnered international respect.  (I do not mean to imply a causal connection.)  In fact, in 2007 he was awarded the French decoration of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.  He also knows how to tell a captivating story. This suspenseful novel takes place in Morocco and like all of Doug’s books, is hard to put down.

Next came Melanie Benjamin’s (author of The Aviator’s Wife) novel The Swans of 5th Avenue. A work of historical “faction” set in mid-20th century high-society Manhattan, it focuses on the relationship between author Truman Capote and his “Swans,” a clique of high profile socialites that includes the likes of Babe Paley, C. Z. Guest, and Pamela Churchill.  Interesting.

The third book, by John Niven, came from the awesome Continuum 33-1/3 series of small (4.5” by 6.5”) and short (100+- pages) books about classic music albums. Music from Big Pink, also a work of faction, is the 28th installment in the series of 100+- titles.  It cleverly enlightens on both the ground-breaking album and its creator, The Band.  Both are at the tip-top of my all-time favorites.  As evidence of my obsession, here is a photo I took of the Big Pink house in the Catskills a few summers ago.

Big Pink
And this brings us to Meg Mitchell Moore’s new novel, The Admissions. A few pages in, I gathered that it was about a high-achieving suburban San Francisco teenaged girl’s obsession to gain admission to Harvard.  I initially thought that I might recommend it to Hyde’s college counseling folks.

Then as the pages clicked by on my iPad, I began to see how the actions and attitudes of this girl’s parents and two sisters might be of particular interest to our Family Education department.

Before long, I began to perceive it as a good book for any Hyde person.

Finally, it became clear that this is a great book for any… person, especially any man, woman, or child striving in earnest to balance the drive for high expectations with a respect for serenity and virtue within a family setting.

The opening line in the Amazon review sums it up pretty well: “The Admissions brilliantly captures the frazzled pressure cooker of modern life as a seemingly perfect family comes undone by a few desperate measures, long-buried secret — and college applications!”

You’ve got:
–          The valedictorian pursuing the holy grail of the Ivy League;
–          The second-grader way behind her peers on reading level;
–          The free-and-easy middle child turning locked down and distressed;
–          The accomplished consultant dad, with a few secrets of his own, who makes the whole suburban Marin County lifestyle possible;
–          The do-it-all mom who alternates between fast-track real estate sales and keeping the whole household together.

Throughout the book, I kept trying to figure out the title.  I’m still not sure, but it ultimately dawned on me that its meaning simply can’t be limited to “admissions” in the college sense. I suspect that it also refers to the inevitable sporadic admissions of truth and guilt that surface in the book’s most heated moments.  Indeed, they create its most heated moments.  (Full Disclosure: That’s the way it often goes down at our house!)

In any case, the closing line of the Amazon review is a good way to leave it: “Sharp, topical, and wildly entertaining, The Admissions shows that if you pull at a loose thread, even the sturdiest lives start to unravel at the seams of high achievement.”

Read this book.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld