The single biggest thing you need to know about this book up front is that it is an unapologetic celebration of materialism and name brands. If you don’t want to read about someone’s Louboutins and how well they match said individual’s Stella McCarthy cocktail dress, then read something else. This book happened to catch me in peak escapist mode so I enjoyed it, and yet in a different frame of mind, I could just as easily have wanted to throw it across the room. My brain is a fickle thing.
Marriage on Madison Avenue is the third book in the Central Park Pact series and it works fine as a stand alone although the characters and themes from the other books are prominently represented. The prologue gets the reader all caught up. It seems that once upon a time a guy named Brayden died, and at his funeral his wife, Claire, met his two girlfriends, Audrey and Naomi. None of the three women had known the other existed, and they made a pact to help each other avoid future jerks. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Fast forward a year and a half later, and Claire and Naomi have moved on in healthy and happy ways duly detailed in their own novels. However, Audrey continues to feel guilt over (unknowingly) having an affair with a married man. Audrey is an Instagram influencer who is tired of having a reputation as someone who can’t keep a boyfriend (yes, I know, there’s a lot to unpack in that sentence). So Audrey suggests to Clarke West, her best friend from childhood, that they pretend to be engaged for a while just to give her a break from the nasty comments.
Clarke and Audrey embark on a fake engagement which involves an enormous ring and an engagement party (hence the cocktail dress and shoes) and many other examples of conspicuous consumption. Of course, they encounter the inevitable problem with any fake relationship in fiction, which is that they immediately develop FEELINGS but can’t tell each other because they don’t want to ruin the friendship, while Naomi and Claire and their partners and various coworkers and relatives basically do this:
Materialism aside I have to say that this book is very fun, with good dialogue, a focus on friendship, and likeable — if exasperating — characters. The failure of Audrey and Clarke to communicate is frustrating but also, given the high stakes of their eternal friendship, plausible. The book succeeds largely on the fact that they really are good friends, with a nice lived-in relationship makes a good bedrock for a romantic relationship. I also liked that not only are Audrey, Claire, and Naomi friends, but so are their respective partners. The plot doesn’t make much sense, but whenever the friends in any combination are just hanging out being friends, the book shines.
This book earns the B on the strength of friendships but beyond that, there’s just no substance. It’s all frosting and no cake. At the end of the day Audrey and Clarke are rich people with no awareness of their privilege and no particular urge to use their advantages to help others. They each get a small amount of character growth but not a lot. At the beginning they are friends and at the end they are married (I guess that’s a spoiler but it’s a romance so you knew that was coming). Whoopee. I enjoyed it and I forgot it. However, I did love the idea of the pact that forms the series – three women refusing to let a guy make them enemies and instead becoming a family. It’s a medium book and an excellent pact.