Dishing It Out At Country Day

March 16, 2012
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Fh Author Pens Comic Novel


WHEN THE MATH-whiz son of struggling single Mom and local caterer Josie Messina gets a full scholarship to the prestigious and assuredly upscale Little Fawn Country Day School, the future seems as bright as the sheen on a brand new Beamer.

But as Josie takes her place among the pastel wearing, Botoxed, husband-betrayed and carbohydrate averse social butterflies that parent the Little Fawn elite, she begins to see that the free ride may not be such a bargain after all.

Having a math prodigy in the upper school is sure to help raise Country Day’s status in the educational community, but the scheming headmaster has come up with an even better way to do that – a way that won’t overburden the school’s heavy-on-the-self-esteem-building curriculum model.

As the comical drama plays out in Arlene Matthews’ novel, The Mothers of Country Day, readers are introduced to a parade of people, places and things that demonstrate just how much the towns of Upper Fawn and Lower Fawn have in common with the two rivers.

But, stresses the Fair Haven author with a friendly smile, the plot, characters and setting  contained in her novel are utterly and completely fictional.

“Name any affluent community – there’s a country day school there. It’s a good way to communicate that kind of upscale (way of life) in shorthand.”

But, she admits, she did draw on her 20 years’ experience as a resident of the two rivers to create the fictional landscape of Little and Lower Fawn, a mythical corner of the Jersey Shore that is as blessed economically as it is geographically.

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“I always wanted to set a novel here,” says the Queens native, who moved to Fair Haven from the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her husband before their son was born 20 years ago.

“You know how salmon go upstream to spawn?” she jokes about their move. “I was daunted by the idea of having to educate my kid in New York City.”

After a career with Random House in New York and L.A., Matthew became a college admissions consultant and authored more than 30 books, including Getting in Without Freaking Out: The College Admissions Guide For Overwhelmed Parents.

A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, she earned a master’s degree in psychological counseling at Monmouth University – a field of study that has served her well in her work with families of teens preparing to enter college.

“Everybody goes crazy, including the parents,” says Matthews, whose

son is now in his freshman year at Johns Hopkins University.

With the adoption of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the increasing emphasis on test scores, Matthews says, parents, teens and school administrators are under increasing pressure to outperform their peers and get into the “right” college.

With the educational stakes at an all-time high, can scandal be far behind?

“Some people feel that desperate times call for desperate measures,” says Matthews.

And so it is at Country Day.

“The book is a comedy so I take everything to an absurd extreme,” says Matthews.

And as Little Fawn battles it out with the local parochial school for academic sainthood, some parents give a little too much “help”

Fair Haven resident Arlene Matthews drew on her expertise as a college admissions consultant to write her comic novel, "The Mothers of Country Day (Create Space 2012), set in an upscale private school in the fictional community of Little Fawn, New Jersey.

with their child’s college essay while others pray for the Hail Mary pass of a legacy admission.

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Hedge fund managers play fast and loose with other people’s money. The computer education guru gives the whiz kid some innovative and possibly illegal assignments.

Meanwhile, the kids are building their feel-good skills with free reading and journal writing, Josie is breaking her budget catering school functions for free, and everyone is enjoying the party.

When she first had the idea of using a wealthy private school as the setting for a novel, Matthews sketched out some “archetypal” characters.

When she began writing the book a few years later, she found the characters taking on lives of their own.  “You get to a certain place where the characters just start doing stuff,” she says. “I was just as intrigued as I hope the reader is.”

Matthews dedicated her book to her fourth grade teacher back in Queens, Adelaide Moskowitz, whom she has been unsuccessfully searching for on the Internet.

Moskowitz had a lifelong impact on her former student, and Matthews would like the opportunity to tell her that in person.

“She was my role model. She was my hero.” Matthews says.

The Mothers of Country Day is available on Amazon in print of for Kindle or may be ordered from any bookstore.


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