Kat Maguire is having a very bad day. She is late for work, where she is scheduled to make a presentation to an important client. It’s raining, and she has forgotten her umbrella. When she finally arrives at the office, wilted but ready to proceed, she sees that the presentation is already underway in the conference room. Her company has, like most, been hit hard by the recession. Summoned to a meeting with her boss, she soon learns that the economic downturn is about to impact her in a very personal fashion. Devastated, she returns home to find her much-younger, live-in boyfriend engaging in behavior that can best be described as unseemly.
After a visit with a wise, compassionate friend, Kat decides that she needs a break to rest, contemplate her future, and make decisions about her life. So she flies home to St. Louis to spend some time at her parents’ home. She’s sure that her residency in New York City and relationship have both concluded, but not sure what dream she will pursue next. While she considers her options, her sister, a real estate agent, arranges for Kat to stay in a luxury high-rise apartment that is among her listings, but in the current slow-moving real estate market, has not yet sold.
Kat’s two best childhood friends still reside in the St. Louis area. Carla is a major local celebrity, having enjoyed a long, successful stint as a local news anchor. But Carla got the anchor spot by muscling the former, aging anchor out of the chair — with the assistance of her ex-husband, the station manager, Burton. They have continued to work — and bicker — together in the years since their divorce. But at 45, Carla wonders if Burton’s new girlfriend, an eager, attractive, and young reporter, is the reason why negotiations for her new contract have stalled. Could it be that Burton is planning to help his new love interest force Carla out of the job she loves so dearly?
Meanwhile, Dr. Elise Randolph has a thriving dermatological practice. Her husband, Michael, is a highly sought-after plastic surgeon. Their only child has recently gone off to college, but Elise’s growing disquietude is centered on more than her newly empty nest. She and Michael have grown distant from each other, to the point that they lead virtually separate lives. He is rarely home in the evenings, claiming that he is working late or in meetings with his partner, and intimacy seems to be a thing of the past. She wonders if he has he merely lost interest in her and their marriage or is perhaps having an affair with another woman.
When Kat is reunited with her childhood pals, their friendship is as strong as ever. Can they support and guide each other through the challenges and transitions each of them is facing?
The title of the book proved somewhat misleading. I mistakenly believed the focus of the tale was going to be on women over the age of 40 being involved with younger men. And while that theme does play out, it is certainly not the main thrust of either the storyline or message.
Author Susan McBride spins a fast-paced, sometimes tongue-in-cheek story about three women who have been friends for most of their lives, although they have not been in touch all that often in recent years. When Kat finds herself at a critical juncture and returns to their native St. Louis, the three are reunited and resume their interactions without missing a beat. Each woman is accomplished in her own right — an educated, hard-working professional who has achieved a great deal up to this point in her life. And they are plainly friends who know, understand, and unconditionally support each other. And since I am lucky to have friends with whom I share similar relationships, I could easily relate to that aspect of the story. There is real comfort in getting together with other female friends who understand your history and life experiences, as well as your values and outlook, and engaging in meaningful conversation with a prerequisite explanation of those details. McBride’s understanding and appreciation of the value of female friendships is evident in the characters’ dialogue.
“I am woman, hear me roar?” Please. Some days it’s all I can do not to spit up a fur ball.
~ Carla in The Cougar Club
That the three are “cougars,” i.e. women over the age of 40 attracted to much younger men, is really an incidental facet of the plot. Kat walks away from a relationship that has always been dysfunctional, but she tried valiantly to salvage. And when she finally finds the courage to distance herself from him, her will power is tested. Being alone may not be ideal, but Kat has to decide if it is preferable to settling for a relationship that can never be thoroughly satisfying and fulfilling. Coupled with her professional crisis, brought on solely because of the difficult economic times in which we are living, her story is entirely believable.
Elise’s predicament is more insidious, but no less authentic. Many couples find themselves drifting apart as the children grow up and leave home. What once drew a husband and wife to each other can be lost without either partner even noticing that it is happening. Suddenly, one or both realizes that their life has not turned out the way they pictured it 15 or 20 years earlier. Searching for the cause may be pointless or, in Elise’s case, quite shocking. Either way, many women find themselves alone, often for the first time in their lives, in their mid-40’s, when they thought they would be married to the same man forever. How Elise copes and evolves after her life-altering discovery is as interesting as reading about her journey to that point.
And then there is Carla, the most “over the top” of the three characters, inviting the inevitable comparisons to Kim Catrrall’s “Samanta Jones” in Sex and the City. Carla is a diva, but even divas experience insecurity, self-doubt, and, perhaps more intensely than other women, fear about the future as time ravages their youthful beauty. Carla went along with Burton’s Machiavellian methods to secure her position as the anchor on the evening news, but has remained at the top of her game as the years have passed through hard work and dedication. She loves her job and all the perks it brings. But the years have ticked by and she is keenly aware that on-camera work is definitely a younger woman’s game. As she puts it, “anchormen are like Santa Claus. he more potbellied and bald they get, the more revered. Anchorwomen, on the other hand, are pretty much like Kleenex: disposable and always replaceable with a newer, prettier box.” Carla is nothing is not shrewd, and the corporate intrigue that that fuels her story is entertainingly and delectably detailed out by McBride.
Yes, Carla does have a much younger boyfriend, the sexy sports reporter with whom she works. But their relationship also takes a couple of surprising turns that endear the reader to both characters. McBride wisely draws Carla as much more than a selfish, controlling, narcissistically-obsessed career woman. On the contrary, McBride puts Carla’s fears, misgivings, and faults on display, but makes her a very loyal and generous friend to Kat and Elise, thereby creating a character with depth and soul. In the hands of a less intuitive and skilled writer, Carla could easily have been nothing more than a caricature.
The Cougar Club is an tender homage to women and, more specifically, women’s friendships. McBride demonstrates through her characters that women can be loyal and noncompetitive with each other. If you want to read about three interesting women over 40 who face obstacles head-on, with comfort and encouragement from their female friends, you will enjoy The Cougar Club. By the end of the book, there is no “happily ever after,” but each character has learned that life does offer an “Act Two,” about which Kat says: “If you don’t live each day like it’s your last and wake up every morning excited about what you’re doing, for God’s sake, move on. It’s never too late to find your passion.” If McBride’s readers take that attitude away from the book, they are also likely to feel that reading it was time well spent. I did!
I read The Cougar Club in conjunction with the 2010 Read ‘n’ Review and the Fall Into Reading 2010 challenges.