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Monkey business

Behold the rituals of a peculiar species of Upper East Side wife.

Bonobo
Photo/Thinkstock


Social anthropology is the talk of the town. The text is Primates of Park Avenue, and its subjects, in author Wednesday Martin’s coinage, Glam SAHMs, are the “glamorous stay-at-home-moms” of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Martin “observes the strange rituals of this particular UES tribe, documenting their behaviours and social hierarchy as if they were a family of bonobos”, writes Annie Lowrey in New York magazine. “They spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on personal upkeep. Their chief status symbol is not a Birkin bag or a share of a private jet but a fourth or fifth or sixth kid. They abuse drugs, drink like fishes and snipe.”

The blanket coverage began with a New York Times op-ed by Martin – who says she “went native”– detailing women “exhaustively enriching their children’s lives by virtually every measure”, cloistering themselves from men and in some cases claiming an “annual wife bonus”. “Not an uncommon practice in this tribe,” she writes, “a wife bonus ... might be hammered out in a pre-nup or post-nup, and distributed on the basis of not only how well her husband’s fund had done but her own performance – how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a ‘good’ school – the same way their husbands were rewarded at investment banks”.

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Before you can say “Hèrmes Birkin handbag”, the backlash begins. “Upper East Side housewife’s tell-all book is full of lies,” runs the headline in the New York Post, above a piece questioning the chronology and veracity of the details, and divining “holes big enough to drive an Escalade through”. (An Escalade being a Cadillac SUV, as you know.) Martin is quoted as saying she had “telescoped certain parts of the narrative in order to protect the privacy of friends, neighbours, associates and family”. But there is “no such disclaimer” in the book, sniffs the Post. She had also “backpedalled” on the “wife bonus”, admitting she didn’t “necessarily think it’s a trend or widespread”.

Martin has since moved with her family to the Upper West Side. The Birkin bag she bought for five figures during her embedded scholarship is gone, too, according to New York magazine, “after a French doctor suggested it was making her arm numb”.

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Winner of the Sackler Centre First Award, joining such prestigious recipients as novelist Toni Morrison and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, is – drum roll please – Miss Piggy. The decision to recognise a Muppet in such a way has unsurprisingly provoked controversy, so Time commissioned a defence. By Miss Piggy. “Some internet opinion givers may question whether moi deserves such an honour,” she writes (in “remarks provided by The Muppets Studio”). “Moi is now and has always been an ardent feminist and champion of women’s rights ... I believe any woman who is willing to struggle, strive – and if necessary learn karate – to make their mark in the world is a feminist.”

She acknowledges she is a “Porcine American” but warns against “latent species-ism”, writing: “Sure, there are male chauvinist pigs, but there are also male chauvinist humans and, on very rare occasions and at their own peril, male chauvinist amphibians. Let us not besmirch an entire species because of the sins of a few.”

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László Krasznahorkai, winner of the Man Booker International prize, looks like fun. Susan Sontag called him the “contemporary Hungarian master of the apocalypse”. And he gives a heck of an interview. When the Guardian asked him how he’d describe his work, he said: “Letters; then from letters, words; then from these words, some short sentences; then more sentences that are longer, and in the main very long sentences, for the duration of 35 years. Beauty in language. Fun in hell.”

And which of his books would he recommend for a new reader? “I couldn’t recommend anything ... instead, I’d advise them to go out, sit down somewhere, perhaps by the side of a brook, with nothing to do, nothing to think about, just remaining in silence like stones. They will eventually meet someone who has already read my books.”

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