Jane Shemlit’s The Playground concerns three married couples, and their children, thrown together over the course of a summer. Stay-at-home mother Eve, who is more than comfortably off thanks to a generous legacy from her parents has 3 children with landscaper hubbie, Eric. They have an idyllic country home with meadows, woods and even donkeys. Eve is the perfect wife and mother, the sort who makes her own bread–she has an inner tranquility which has a medicated quality. Eve has recently become certified as a teacher of dyslexic children and this move was due to Eve wanting to help her own dyslexic child. Poppy
Now certified, Eve opens up her home to other parents and takes on Isabelle the daughter of ultra-thin interior designer Melissa who is married to creepy control freak Paul. Also onboard for tuition is Blake the son of Zimbabwe immigrant Grace whose slim income supports the family, barely (including Booker prize novelist dad, Martin).
Day one, things go wrong. But not screamingly wrong. At first it’s subtle: Eve’s husband Eric promised to watch their two other children, but now work commitments demand otherwise. Then Grace leaves daughter Charley at Eve’s house when she drops off Blake for his lessons. So here’s Eve, who planned to tutor 3, with three extra kids: 6 total. Now what can go wrong???? Right away, Eve’s home becomes a sort of playground of dangerous and even sick games for the children, and the adults are so busy with their own issues, no-one notices a thing.
All of these marriages come under scrutiny with Martin working his lazy charms on Eve, Grace agonizing over money, living in a slum, harried all the time, and Melissa worrying about aging and staying in shape–after all Paul has a ‘thing‘ for really young women; he snapped up Melissa when she was 15 (pervie alert), so a mixture of characters–all with their own problems and with the women eyeing each other envying each other in various sad and pathetic ways. …
Sorry but if I went to pick up my kid and the adult watching them had no idea where she/he was, it would be sayonara baby. I didn’t like any of the characters which isn’t a deal breaker for me, as nasty people are usually a lot more interesting than nice ones. In this case, I wasn’t interested in these characters much at all. I wanted Grace and Melissa to whack their husbands upside the head. The Playground would probably slot into the domestic suspense genre and as such it is a slow burn. We know almost immediately that something bad has happened, and so the read is a train wreck waiting to happen. I wanted to stop the train wreck.
I used to think truth was a simple thing. That there could only be one truth, single and essential–like light, say, or water. Now I know it comes in layers, some more transparent than others. If you look carefully–and we didn’t–you can see through the top layer to the darkness beneath.
As a reader, I love reading about adults behaving badly, but it’s another thing when it comes to children (and animals), so given the subject matter, this book may not be for all readers.