‘Big Little Lies’ of the east coast

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  • Author Caitlin Macy. Photo: Deborah Copaken

May old acquaintance be forgot — especially if you’ve moved to NYC to reinvent yourself.

In Caitlin Macy’s upcoming novel, “Mrs.” (out February 13), the corridors of the Upper East Side serve as the place where three well-heeled moms — the coolly elegant Philippa Lye, down to earth Gwen Hogan, and rags-to-riches Minnie Curtis — get reacquainted.

Long ago, Philippa and Minnie toiled at the same company; Gwen and Philippa grew up in the same small town; Gwen, her husband, Dan, a heavy-drinking prosecutor in the US Attorney’s Office, and Minnie’s husband, the perennial striver John, all went Yale together; and Philippa and John had, well, let’s call it an encounter.

In this east coast version of HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” they all, plus Philippa’s innocent bystander husband Jed, a true captain of industry from a New York family that owes its wealth and status to the banking industry, end up as parents at the same private school. It’s not exactly old home week.

Still-festering grudges play themselves out at drop-off, pick-up, and townhouse cocktail parties.

Although the requisite one-upmanship, brinkmanship, and mean mommies do make appearances, “Mrs.” is not your typical momzilla-esque story; it’s about what happens when the past comes back to haunt you.

While my own blasts from the past never included insider trading, blackmail, and prostitution, as in “Mrs.”, they were uncomfortable all the same, whether I was on the giving or receiving end.

The first day of my now 20-year-old daughter’s pre-K, I saw a mother I’d known years before. She was a headhunter who once even made money off me when I got a copywriter job for which she’d presented my work. We had had a pleasant professional relationship, so naturally when I saw her behind the welcome desk, I waved. She gave me a pained smile and quickly turned her attention elsewhere. I realized she probably thought I was going to use school events to hound her about career opportunities, when in fact, I didn’t know if she was even in the business anymore; besides, I had become a successful freelancer, getting almost all my gigs on my own. Whether my assumptions were wrong or right, to prove I was not there to network, I ignored her the rest of the year.

Of course, I thought her setting a negative tone was ridiculous, but everything is until it happens to you.

“Aren’t you ... ?” asked another mother at one of my son’s sporting events about 15 years ago when he was eight. I knew who she was. We had grown up in the same area of the Bronx. We’d never hung out; I had just known her from around. There were reminiscences about the ‘hood, which I had taken great pains to escape so I could make my way in Manhattan, and names of people I’d long forgotten, and names of others I didn’t recall at all. I guess my impatience with the whole conversation was too obvious to ignore. “Well, I just wanted to say hello. See you next time,” she said before heading back to the side designated for her son’s team. When our boys played each other, I often avoided common areas, like the food stand or the restrooms. I believe once I forwent a game entirely.

Being the avoider seemed equally as absurd as being the avoidee. I didn’t understand these feelings, until one day I read an essay by a D-list actress who described how her one-time roommate and now A-list star had gotten her booted from the lead actor’s major TV show, where the author had landed a bit role on one episode. “Why would such a successful celebrity deny a struggling one a small part on a hit program?” I asked my husband, Neil. His response: “Do you really think this big shot wants someone around regaling the cast and crew with stories about how she didn’t make her bed when she was 19?”

It all made sense. We mature and change, and regret things we did when we were struggling to grow up that we indeed want to put behind us, but then someone shows up and reminds us that, even though we might not be that person anymore, it’s still a little bit of who we are.

Whatever your past indiscretions, just be grateful if they don’t resemble those of the characters in the page-turner, Mrs.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels “Back To Work She Goes” and “Fat Chick,” for which a movie is in the works.

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