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The Three of U.S.: A New Life in New York - Joanna Coles

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Genre: Biography / Author: Joanna Coles, Peter Godwin / Edition: New Ed / Paperback / 304 Pages / Book is published 2000-06-05 by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

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      30.06.2009 12:37
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      For parents and parents to be alike

      Joanna and Peter are two British journalists / authors who live in New York. Joanna writes on occasion for the Guardian and various glossies, and Peter writes books with scintillating titles such as 'A white boy in Africa'. They're also a 30 something un-married, childless couple as the book begins. And this book is a diary, written day by day by each of them in turn, of 9 months of their life in the late 90s. Why 9 months? Well maybe the first line of the book can help:


      JOANNA: The test is negative. There is no pink line in the second box on the tester stick, but I'm sure I am pregnant.


      The book is in fact a pregnancy diary, written by the couple as the months progress, but in true contemporary style, it's much more 'Bridget Jones' than 'What To Expect When You're Expecting'. And though the main theme is this new baby, the book incorporates numerous other 'fun' anecdotes from their new American life, even if these all do end up baby-themed as a result of the impending arrival. So we hear about how dreadful moving house is in the city but they have to do it....because of the baby. And they tell us about their little misadventure with pasta tongs and Peter's head....all in the name of simulating a forceps delivery. What's funny is that since this book was written (about 6 years ago), things that might once have seemed fascinating chestnuts of NYC life have now become typical of just about everywhere in the UK too - yoga being fashionable, groceries being 24 hours, Starbucks being on every corner.

      It seems funny to talk about characters in what is essentially a what-really-happened diary, but in a way, this is exactly what the people who appear in the book are. As the writers, Joanna and Peter could obviously tone down or hype up their personalities as appropriate, though the fact that each is writing various segments means that things they might try to change individually still emerge from the other's tales. In addition to the pair, we are also invited, albeit for a very short time, into the lives of various other people. There are their mothers (one neurotic, one eccentric), their fathers (largely un-memorable), their friends, both ex-pat and native. Their yoga teacher (poised and serene) and their labour coach (the exact opposite). The elusive globe-trotting Andrew Solomon, a friend of, well, all their friends, who say the pair just *have* to meet him. The Key West estate agent who tries so, so hard to sell them a property, despite it being ravaged by a hurricane that's still hovering overhead.

      I've never had personal contact with the British approach to pregnancy and birth, but I still can't help but feel that the American way, and the NYC way in particular, is louder, brasher, more full of life and over the top than anywhere else. At first they are overwhelmed with the American standards, and the fact that these actually extend into the weird world of Obs and Gynae:


      JOANNA: The gynaecologist's office is far smarter than anything I have encountered in the British Health Service. With black leather seating and the latest editions of Vogue, Harper's Bizarre, National Geographic, the New Yorker and Time, the reception is more like a discrete hotel lobby.


      But, this soon changes. Suitable doctors and hard to find, hospitals are fully booked by the über-efficient, and they begin to suspect that a lot of the worry about preparation, tests, courses and whatever are all just a money making scam. At one point before her un-travelable 3rd trimester, Joanna jets off home to England:


      JOANNA: I'm already high risk. I'm 36.
      HOTEL DOCTOR: That's not considered high risk in England...

      The change of voice is highlighted each time with the new speaker's name and date, as well as a switch from a sans-serif font to a not so sans one in my copy, but this difference is so mild that someone fully absorbed in the story wouldn't notice. A change in font colour might work, but the appearance and then rapid disappearance of squiggly bits sure doesn't. This isn't a big issue, but it seems a shame that what they went so far to achieve, in terms of two distinct narrators, fails miserably.


      This book is a funny read, but in a subtle way. It's mostly the little things that crop up again and again that made me laugh, like the pair's long running infatuation with Richard Dreyfuss, an elusive resident of their new building, or Peter's obsession with the number-sold tally of his own books on their Amazon page. It's also a nice book because of the detailed descriptions and imagery that are thrown up:


      JOANNA: The walls are quietly green, decorated with soothing scenes from Yosemite, each framed in black; thundering waterfalls and proud, snow capped mountains. Each one is accompanied by a motivational slogan. "The bend in the road is not the end of the road - unless you fail to make the turn"; "Some people dream of success - others wake up and work at it"...


      I suppose it's assumed that readers with have a vague knowledge of the city, but where this is true, it's only in relation to things you can pick up from books or films - you don't actually have to have walked along Broadway to know Zabar's is a deli, or to have stepped foot in the Meat Packing district to know what sort of clubs you'd find there - watching the odd episode of Sex and the City would suffice.

      I bought this book because I liked the cover and the blurb on the back. It then sat on my bookshelf for about 4 years before I finally made myself read it, but I'm glad I did because I really enjoyed it. Having a male voice in equal ratio to a female one stopped it become too chick-litty, and even if you're not pregnant, have never been pregnant and never plan on being pregnant, it's a well told, interesting story to get your teeth into.


      Available new and used on Amazon but I picked it up in the Works for £1.50 a few years back.

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