“One belongs to New York instantly.”
Tom Wolfe said it, and millions have felt it. But in the era of millennials living in million-dollar studio apartments, is there room for a middle-aged suburban mom from Dallas?
That’s the challenge facing Allison Brinkley in Amy Poeppel’s second novel, “Limelight.” When Allison’s husband is offered a job in Manhattan, she pushes her family into the move, ready for all of them to step into a Nora Ephron movie — never mind that one of their three children is a high school senior and the family feels as if they’re “going from an Escalade to a Vespa.”
For Allison, that Vespa quickly gets downgraded to a Schwinn. Soon after she arrives, her teaching job fizzles, and she finds herself out of work with three children who detest Manhattan. The only person who goes gaga for the city is her husband. He takes selfies with celebs, is featured on Humans of New York and starts saying “sexy” a lot.
Not to be defeated, Allison throws herself into her kids’ lives and, in the process, ends up landing a job as the personal assistant to Carter Reid, a bad-boy teenage pop star who loves drugs, money, one-night stands and screaming at people. (Basically, he’s Justin Bieber in 2013.)
Carter is ready to party until his career implodes, but he is contractually obligated to star alongside Kevin Kline in “Limelight,” a Broadway musical reimagining the Charlie Chaplin film. Carter will do anything to break his unbreakable contract, so it’s up to Allison to get this hormonal disaster up on stage.
The story of how Allison gets that gig is a big stretch, but the hilarity that ensues between her and Carter makes it worth it. Poeppel describes the spoiled pop prince perfectly. Even her choice of curse words feel lifted off the pages of a teen’s Instagram account. This authenticity and the way Allison creatively deals with Carter’s tantrums will have readers rooting for her as she tries to get him away from the dark side and to his Broadway rehearsals.
The story is strongest when Allison enlists her own high school senior, a STEM-obsessed good girl, to help Carter practice his lines, and we start to see his sweet side peek through. And when Carter finally starts rehearsals, Poeppel gives readers a backstage look at how Broadway musicals are made — from the first table read to opening night.
Written with heaps of humor and just as much heart, “Limelight” is a testament to the transformative power of good mothering, the magic of the stage and the allure of Manhattan — even if you arrive in a Ford Explorer with Texas plates.
Karin Tanabe, a former Politico reporter, is the author of four novels, including her latest, “The Diplomat’s Daughter.”
By Amy Poeppel
Atria. 416 pp. $26