Amy Sohn and the SHAMs


Park Slope writer Amy Sohn has stirred up neighborhood controversy (and scored a potential HBO show) with her new book, Prospect Park West, about four women in the Slope who are each struggling with motherhood and marriage in various, hilarious ways. It’s a satirical slice of Brooklyn life in the summer leading up to the big election of ’08, which Sohn calls “a book about Park Slope if Park Slope were interesting.” At her BookCourt reading on Tuesday (where they’re currently selling the book at 20% off), in front of a crowd that included her parents and friends from growing up in Brooklyn, the passages were laugh-out-loud funny, juicy, and kinda naughty. You can hear for yourself at two upcoming readings: tonight, at the In The Flesh reading series at Happy Ending, and September 29 at Community Bookstore. We hear the Park Slope Parents group will be in attendance at the latter, as will a burlesque performer who will do dirty things to a baby doll. Here are our questions for Amy about the book, the neighborhood, and those alleged swingers.

You poke a lot of fun at Park Slope moms–one character calls the local SAHMs (Stay At Home Moms) SHAMs. Has there been any blowback? Do you feel it’s fair or misguided?
There have been a few blog posts and some nasty comments (although I try my best not to read comments). I read with one eye and if something upsets me I close the computer.

Susan Fox, founder of Park Slope Parents, gave a funny quote to the New York Times about not being a cargo-wearing mom like the mothers in the book — but I don’t think she had read the whole book when she gave the quote, as the protagonists of the novel are all MORE attractive than the average mom you see crouching over a stroller on Seventh Avenue.

I think that PS moms who are offended by the book should lighten up a little, the same way they should lighten up about being mothers. My novel is social satire and if people don’t get that they won’t understand the book.

Are the Park Slope moms really as intolerable as they seem in the book? Or are we just living in an age of overbearing mothersuperiors?
I don’t think they are. They are the granolas.

You see the granolas at the Coop with the slings, breastfeeding while shopping. But I have breastfed while walking, and while on the subway, and I breastfed for fifteen months so people could call me a lactivista if they want to. Today in the Tea Lounge [Ed. Note: Now forever stuck in our minds as the Teat Lounge, as it’s called in the book!] I saw a little girl throw her mother’s muffin out abruptly, just as her mother was telling her in a timid voice not to throw it out. The mother cried out the child’s name but it wasn’t angry so much as dismayed. That kind of behavior bothers me. Show some discipline! Take the child by the shoulders, speak firmly to her about why she did something wrong, and then punish her. How else is she to learn that she does not run the show? A lot of PS moms would sooner buy a new muffin that teach the kid she can’t throw out Mommy’s food.

In general, though, PS moms run the gamut, like moms everywhere. I really believe that they are all just trying to do their best, which may or may not be a good thing depending on how you look at it.

Most of your characters are pretty ambivalent about motherhood. You made it clear in the Times that it’s been the best experience of your life–but do you share any of the same ambivalence? What’s been the most challenging part for you?
I had a hard time with early motherhood but never regretted it. I would not describe my feelings about it as ambivalent now, as I have a four-year-old and parenting an older toddler has been a joy for me. We have fun together and I bring her with me to do the things I need to do, which you can’t do quite as easily with a one- or two-year-old.

The most challenging part was making friends. It gets easier now that I am part of the community of mothers at her nursery school. At the beginning I couldn’t stand how SLOW time went on the playground, and I could never get into the sleep and food talks because I was blessed with a good sleeper and a good eater. When you’re not struggling with parenting issues, you want to talk about other things. I could never get the conversation past the kid stuff. It’s still hard even with a four-year-old. And at older ages it’s all about the school, the administration and the teachers, so basically we’re screwed forever.

Did you create the gmail address ( in the book for the swinging parents? What kinds of emails have you been getting?
I invented it. No idea if anyone’s written to it. I could email them and see.

The scenes at the Food Coop are pretty racy–how exciting can a shift at the Coop really get?
I just had my shift today and we owe three as a family. I am one of the few mothers I know who does not either work her husband’s shift for him or lie and pretend to be a single mother so she only has to work one shift a month. There is a lot of fraud at the Coop and I wish they would crack down on it because it’s not fair.

I have been hit on while working the checkout station but never by Adrian Grenier. The men that hit on me seemed like more like the wild and crazy guys from “Saturday Night Live.” I think they are guys that hit on everyone they can.

I have witnessed a lot of flirting in the aisles though. Not a bad place to be single. And the young guys are cute and food-aware. You can’t do much better than that.

If you wind up leaving the Slope someday, what will you miss?
I will miss Prospect Park, the Carousel, the 321 scene (even though I’m not in that scene yet), the Coop, the leaves in fall, the smell of wood burning in houses, the holiday decorations in windows, the Brooklyn Museum sculpture garden, the Botanic Garden, and the B71.

Interview by Nicole, sent by Chrysanthe. Photos courtesy BB and Juliana Sohn/NYMag.

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