Eliza Starts an Uproar

Why the Upper East Side Mommas banned this novel

Zibby Owens
Dec 28, 2020 · 5 min read

According to Page Six of the New York Post, an Upper East Side moms group (“UES Mommas”) has booted out author Jane L. Rosen. The beloved, warm-hearted, popular author of Eliza Starts a Rumor was scheduled to do a virtual event with the group in January. Once they heard that the novel poked fun at a mom message board similar to their own, the group cancelled the event and kicked her out of the community.

As an Upper East Side mom, I am outraged and feel the need to apologize on behalf of this group in my ‘hood. Behavior like this is what gives a certain set of New Yorkers — and moms — a bad name. Don’t they know how important it is to poke fun at themselves and to see the humor in a light roast (not one from Starbucks)?

Dramatizing the Upper East Side social set is practically a national pastime. Jill Kargman’s uber-popular Bravo TV show “Odd Mom Out,” the current hit drama “The Undoing,” even “Gossip Girl,” are delicious screen depictions. Wednesday Martin wrote a rather unflattering portrait of this group in her book, Primates of Park Avenue, but for the most part, we New Yorkers watch, rapt, alongside everyone else. And we enjoy it.

As a literary podcast host, I’ve interviewed many of those UES authors about their work, including Jane. Jane and I joked about how in pandemic-time, what’s there to even gossip about? That the milk is spoiled? We spoke about how the original title for the book was The Hudson Valley Ladies Bulletin Board and how the crazy part about message boards like these was how members felt free to post their most intimate thoughts and experiences on the Internet, yet all presumably lived and saw each other constantly. I also interviewed J. Courtney Sullivan about her bestselling book Friends and Strangers which touches on the addictive quality of mom message boards, too. No one, as far as I know, has taken any objection to that one. Nor should they.

Yet somehow Eliza Starts a Rumor struck too close a chord for this moms group. Why?! This was a light, fictitious portrayal of a common mom-nomenon. What pregnant mom hasn’t dipped her swollen toe into these waters? When I was pregnant with twins 14 years ago, I spent hours scrolling through boards for the ultimate answer to which double stroller to buy. Never mind that the one I selected cost less than going out to lunch at any Upper East Side cafe. At the time, it felt like the most important decision of my life.

Now it seems cancel culture has pervaded the sanctity of #momlife. And I don’t like it.

Jane L. Rosen published her first book after she turned 50. Her novel is timely, lovely, well-written, and compelling, a character-driven drama that, yes, involves an agoraphobic empty-nester starting a rumor on a message board. I can’t believe that for this, Jane would be banned from her online “support” community.

As a mom of four, I’ve depended on the support of other moms in my community. I’ve alternated drop-offs and pick-ups. I’ve received — and given — advice on everything kid-related. During the pandemic, it was other moms I turned to to vent about remote school, trying to work and parent, and even what to do for vacation. (Answer: nothing.) I even dedicated pages of acknowledgments in my upcoming book to all the moms I’ve been in the trenches with because they’ve all played a huge role in getting me through.

Moms needs each other. It’s the unwritten code of parenthood. When I get into the orbit of a rare mom whose cold energy I can sense as if icicles have been flung at my face, I turn the other cheek. Not my people. We all know moms like that in the smallest towns and the biggest cities, moms who are so insecure themselves they feed off of slashing others to bits or flaunting their choices as the right ones. Moms who might, say, boot someone out of a mom group.

I never claim to know what I’m doing, but I do have a strong sense of what I feel is right and wrong in my own parenting. The pandemic has highlighted that for me, the need to stop and look down at that dim flashlight always shining inside of me, leading the way in my decision-making, and not letting others’ choices impair my judgement or sway me. It’s better to ignore the haters. Like these.

Women also need to lift each other up professionally. Jane L. Rosen wrote a great book. Her second! Previously she even sold a screenplay to Miramax, back when that was something to brag about. She’s creative, hard-working, funny, warm, compassionate and talented. (She DM’ed me recently and said, “Why do I always feel like you’re my little sister?”) She’s exactly the type of knowledgable, connected, compassionate mom a group should want. And now, the pettiness of this Facebook community has even slashed her potential book sales. It’s just wrong. (Although perhaps the backlash from this will actually help!)

So I’m the one who will be hosting that January virtual book event for Jane. And I’ll do so with pride. Pride that a fellow mom has written a fabulous book. Pride for a woman in my community. Pride in standing up for the role of fiction in our society. After all, this was a novel. It shouldn’t have been the end.

See you in January, Jane.

Essays inspired by what moms don’t have time to do.

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