Published by Simon & Schuster
Publication date: February 2nd 2016
Maureen Sherry has a great premise in her new novel Opening Belle—taking the old-boy network theme and applying it to the 2007 financial sector shortly before its meltdown due to the irresponsible use of subprime mortgages to bolster investment banks’ profits. Belle is a smart savvy managing director on the trading desk of a large Wall Street investment firm. Thanks to her financial success her husband stays at home and, with the help of a nanny, takes care of their three young children. Belle is adept at maneuvering through and away from the sexism rampant on the trading floor of her firm, but she watches as other less fortunate women deal with it. When a group of these women want to band together she is faced with a difficult decision—get involved and stay out of it. At the same time, the pressure for greater returns for the clients (and partners) means she’s being confronted with new types of investments that don’t quite make sense.
There’s a lot to work with in Opening Belle: the glass ceiling for women, the piggish behavior of men at her company, the impact of role-reversal on marriage. But even with these great options to choose from in driving the novel Sherry flounders. Case in point: Belle’s unrealistic reaction to finding out that she now has to work with her former fiancé who denied he knew her weeks before their wedding, on the street, while she was carrying her wedding dress, in front of his new girlfriend. Unless you are Mother Teresa this is not a wound that time will heal. You might move on and ultimately know it was for the best but there is no way there would not be a private verbal assault on this loser. And yet, not so much. Instead, Belle lets herself kind-of/sort-of fall back in love with him. Another small issue—apparently every man who works in the world Belle inhabits has a growth disorder because Sherry uses only one word to describe them: giant. Giant hands, giant forearms, giant shoulders, giant fingers, giant frame…it never stops. It works as a drinking game, but distracts from the rest of Sherry’s whip-smart prose.
Initially, I was loving Opening Belle. As a character Belle is everything that makes reading fun—intelligent but snarky and realistic. Unfortunately, the novel soon felt as if Sherry couldn’t decide which element to play up. Is it going to be women held down by men in the business world? The CDO implosion that caused the meltdown in the financial sector that led to the recession? Or is it lost love rekindled? The fact that Sherry opts for all three as well as for a women’s group trying to take down a company AND an entitled husband who likes spending money, but not earning it means that Opening Belle is ADD reading—impossible to stay focused on. As soon as the mind latches onto one piece of the plot there is another shiny thing to look at. This made for quick, surface reading and I was ready for something else.