While We Were Watching Downton Abbey, by Wendy Wax, centers on three woman, Samantha, Claire, and Brooke, all residents of a Midtown Atlanta apartment building, who are each at different crossroads in their lives. Samantha is contemplating 25 years of marriage to a man she doesn’t think she loves. Claire is the divorced single mother whose daughter has just left for college. She’s starting over in a new place, with a new job as full time novelist. Brooke is the harried mother of two young children, and recently divorced from a narcissistic plastic surgeon who continues to chip away at her self-esteem.
At first the women don’t seem to have much in common. When the building’s concierge starts a Sunday night viewing party for Downtown Abbey, the women begin to bond. As they become friends, each experiences a personal crisis. The selfish actions of Samantha’s siblings threaten her already fragile marriage, Claire’s career ends up in shambles and Brooke can’t find the strength to face the machinations of her Ex. On their own, they’re unable to help themselves, but together they find the strength to persevere. Things get uncomfortably complicated when something terrible happens that threatens to destroy their friendships.
I’ve read all of Wendy Wax’s books and she’s a wonderful writer, expert at creating realistic women who come alive on the pages. I liked Samantha, Claire and Brooke, even when I was frustrated by them, which I sadly was sometimes. All three have self-esteem issues that I just wanted to shake out of them. Conversely, there were some characters that I just couldn’t stand – Hunter, Zachery, Meredith! They were so selfish and mean-spirited that it was almost cartoonish. More than once, I wanted to throw the book over things they’d said and done.
I live in the Atlanta area, so I love the descriptions of the city and its citizens, which in my opinion are dead on. What really resonates with me though, is the story of friendship between the women. Meeting late in life, they’re tentative with one other at first, which is natural because it’s hard to make friends late in life. I know this, because I hear women lament about it all the time. But I think once a connection is made, these friendships can be deeper than the fleeting ones of our youth. I enjoyed their interactions and the slow, authentic development of their relationship.
Before I read this book, I’d never seen Downton Abbey – although I’m now addicted! Other than a plot point that brings the women together by way of their shared love for the show, the series has very little to do with the story. The book is an enjoyably easy read about friendship and how it can help us during our darkest times. Although I think it’s better classified as women’s fiction than chick lit, it’s still a fun ride.