"Confessions of a Bigamist "
(reviewed by Jenny Dressel JUN 1, 2004)
“Professionally, I was called Daisy Strait, a name I’d invented. Until I did it, I never thought I’d take a pseudonym, professionally or otherwise, though it immediately felt right. As Daisy, I wrote a monthly column for a dusty but sincere women’s magazine and hopscotched around the country, lecturing the frazzled and hopeful about how to take the clutter out of life…
As an organizing consultant, I facilitated daily living; as Michelle, I facilitated conversations. Even as a girl, I liked the idea of keeping parts of myself to myself, revealing a little here to one friend, a little there to another, and not too much to anyone…”
Michelle Banyon, AKA Daisy Strait, the protagonist in Kate Lehrer’s new novel, Confessions of a Bigamist, seems to have it all. She is 47 years old, has a company (Daisy Strait Enterprises), and career as an “efficiency consultant” - organizing closets and lives - which is starting to skyrocket in popularity, and she has been married to a high-powered international attorney, Steve, for 28 years. They have a wonderful Manhattan apartment with a beautiful view of Central Park, streamlined and efficient, just as Michelle likes it.
In the Banyons’ lives, it isn’t unusual for Michelle to travel one way on her lecture circuit, and for Steve to go another way, working overseas with international corporations. For weeks or even months on end, this independent power couple communicates through e-mail and cell phones, occasionally meeting for a weekend tryst at Steve’s location, or at their Manhattan apartment. This arrangement suits them perfectly.
Steve is to work on a deal in Hong Kong, which will take him to that part of the world for eight weeks. Michelle is due in Texas to lecture a women’s group, and to work on opening a new office for Daisy Strait Enterprises in Austin. They go their separate ways, and life starts to throw Michelle a couple of curve balls.
In Texas, Michelle attends a post-lecture barbecue at the home of a Texan socialite. As she is leaving, she literally backs into Wilson Collins with her rental car. Michelle insists on driving him to the hospital, as he has a huge gash on his head and a knee turning black and blue and swelling. Wilson Collins is a 50-something Texas native, who runs a bird and wildlife sanctuary. On their trip to the hospital, Michelle makes her first fateful decision.
“I’m not very good company, Ms. Strait,” Wilson Collins apologized. “That is your name, isn’t it?”
“That’s the name I use professionally. Michelle Banyon is my real name.”
“You don’t look like Michelle,” he said, studying me. “You look more like a Mickey- a plucky, kind Mickey,” he announce, pleased with himself.
I laughed out loud. Plucky! I tried to remember the last time I’d heard anyone use that word. Not everyone got to be plucky.
“And do you enjoy giving talks, Mickey Banyon?”
“Very much..” When I glanced at him, Wilson Collins seemed to be mulling this over, but he didn’t ask me anything else. Why not be plucky Mickey for a change…
Neither of us said much after that until Wilson spoke. “Are you married?”
I stared at my empty ring finger. As Daisy Strait, I had simplified my life by dropping my husband.
“Are you,” Wilson said again, “married?”
I looked at him for a quick moment, then whispered, “No.”
So Michelle, AKA Daisy falls into this new life as Mickey, and the snowball starts rolling down the hill, gathering steam as it goes.
Kate Lehrer has created an interesting protagonist in this new novel; the irony is overwhelming. Daisy Strait, the efficient, organizing career woman morphs into Mickey, the spontaneous, lust-driven girlfriend…and then newlywed. Yes, Mickey does marry Wilson, due to an ill-timed jealous rage over a younger woman -- can you believe it? Daisy, the efficiency consultant, has become so adept at what she does that she can handle not one husband, but two.
Watching this woman juggle the aspects of her life, I came to the realization that Lehrer has created an exaggeration of what all women may have become. We want it all: the comfortable marriage, the high-powered career, and a bunch of romance thrown in. Some of us even have to juggle children in this mess, although Michelle/Daisy/Mickey didn’t have that worry.
I couldn’t figure out whether I liked this character or not. I found her strength and independence to be inspiring; but her deceit was selfish and overwhelming. I found myself less sympathetic towards her than the other characters who were being duped, but I was compelled to keep reading. There were times that I found her so distasteful, that I had to put down the book… but then again, she really is a likeable character.
Because no one knows the real Michelle/Daisy/Mickey, no one can “smack her silly” and tell her to get real. Kate Lehrer has developed an authentic enigma; this protagonist, even with all her soul searching, is truthful to no one, including herself. This is “compartmentalizing” at its highest, and most ridiculous.
I finished the book four days ago, and I’m still mulling it over. I liked Michelle/Daisy/Mickey, but I found her despicable at the same time. To be honest, I kept thinking “female Bill Clinton.” For all the admiration you may have, there’s the other side, saying, “What are you THINKING?” It’s the ultimate paradigm, which in itself, is truly fascinating.
Lehrer writes with a dry, subtle humor, which I absolutely loved. It’s my opinion that this isn’t a beach read with daiquiris at your side. Each sentence has such flavor and information, that I think you need to read this with your fullest attention, otherwise you may miss the humor and irony throughout.
This is one of those provocative books I will be pushing on people, saying, “Please read this…and tell me what YOU think? Is it a tragedy or a comedy?” I’m going with comedy… I think. I’m still not sure if I got the message Lehrer intended, but I really love this writer’s style, and hope to be able to find her previous books. I do like her strong characters, and I especially like that this one at 47 years old.Incidentally, Ms. Lehrer is the wife of Jim Lehrer. I only recognize him because my dad religiously watched The Newshour with Jim Lehrer. He has a new novel out himself and they are traveling together to promote their respective books. I’ll definitely have to check his book out too, now that I have so much admiration for his wife.
- Amazon readers rating: from 10 review
Read a chapter excerpt from Confessions of a Bigamist at Random House
(back to top)
Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Best Intentions (1987)
- When They Took Away the Man in the Moon (1993)
- Out of Eden (1996)
- Confessions of a Bigamist (May 2004)
(back to top)
(back to top)
About the Author:
Kate Lehrer appears as a frequent guest panelist on Diane Rehm’s Book Club on NPR and participates in a wide range of literary organizations, events and lectures, including talks at book clubs. She is a founding member of PEN/Faulkner and recently served on advisory councils for the arts and sciences at both Texas Christian University and George Mason University. In April 2004, she participated in the 56th Annual Conference on World Affairs.
Lehrer grew up in Texas where she met and married her husband Jim. They have three daughters and six grandchildren. They live in Washington, D.C.