cover image A Most Uncommon Degree of Popularity

A Most Uncommon Degree of Popularity

Kathleen Gilles Seidel, . . St. Martin's, $21.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-312-33326-3

Seidel catalogues the trials of upper-middle-class family life in a novel that will appeal primarily to the sort of people it aims to (gently) critique. Ex-lawyer Lydia Meadows is so busy bracing herself to deal with potential bullies that she's dazed to discover that her sixth grader, Erin, is—gasp—one of the popular girls at her posh Washington, D.C., private school. But when another girl knocks Erin from her pedestal, Lydia is shocked to find that Erin's fall from grace has reverberations in her own life. Four adult women, whom Lydia considered her best friends–cum– "professional associates... all in the business of raising children," adopt the petty behavior of their teenage daughters, which makes Lydia wonder where the line is between wanting the best for your children and being overly involved in their lives. Though there's the odd snippet of sharp social commentary, the story is bogged-down with minutiae (readers don't need to be walked through every car pool crisis to get the general idea), and Seidel beats some already-tired metaphors to death (the whole "it takes a village" concept, for example). This could have been a lively novel of manners, but dull prose and lackluster dramas (will the kids get into Sidwell Friends School?) flatten it. (Mar.)