‘Everything Is Just Fine’

Try to Have Some Sympathy for the Parents of Beverly Hills Youth Soccer

The college admissions scandal could not have been better timed as far as Brett Paesel’s epistolary debut novel is concerned. The entitlement… the chummy self-justifications…

Before the privileged parents populating her Everything Is Just Fine can enter into the college freak-out zone, it’s normal that they’d pass through the tunnel of Beverly Hills Youth Soccer League mania. That’s where Paesel, whose memoir Mommies Who Drink was an L.A. Times bestseller, finds them.

The subject matter is not a natural fit for this reader. I worked hard to keep youth soccer off the family radar, not keen on sacrificing our weekends to mandatory practices and games in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

Instead, I raised funds for class trips, directed student productions and served as co-editor of the 5th-grade yearbook, all of which involved dozens, nay hundreds, of fraught emails.

It’s a many-sided coin and hoo boy, Paesel nails the tone of those group email exchanges, right down to the drunken misspellings and passive-aggressive punctuation. (Beware the perkiest volunteer’s extra exclamation points.)

She also gets a lot of comedic mileage from the time stamps and senders’ email addresses.

It’s hardly surprising that the Transparent actor and producer would be so attuned to the way character and, particularly, character flaws reveal themselves.

As a veteran of the Beverly Hills AYSO, she’s well versed in the myriad unsubtle ways parents endeavor to Yertle their own personal turtles to the top of the turtle stack.

The unsparing tartness of her observations reminded me another cutting comedy of manners­–Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, though there’s heart here, too.

As the Manatees’ season wears on, it’s hard not to feel a few shreds of compassion for the relentlessly upbeat “team mom”, so desperately needing to normalize her son’s behavior that she blinds herself to the possibilities of his outburst’s underlying neurological cause…something his teammates’ parents are all too eager to backseat-diagnose.

Likewise Coach Randy, a colossus of self-delusion. With his marriage, his job, and his prospects for another job in tatters, he continues to prioritize his windy inspirational emails, replete with Braveheart quotes that even the most dedicated team parents won’t read all the way to the end.

If we’re being honest, I identify a bit with those emails. It’s easy to conflate a meaningless-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things kids’ activity with the First War of Scottish Independence when you’re up to your eyeballs, and giving it your all.

(Grand Central Publishing, April 9)

Ayun Halliday

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.

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