Timothy Geithner, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, functions in a world of cold calculation, hard dollars and luftmensch economists. His wife, Carole Geithner, is a therapist and grief counselor who lives in a world that’s the exact opposite: one of emotions, feelings, and angst that has nothing to do with the debt ceiling.
It’s not unusual for Treasury Secretaries to write their memoirs – Hank Paulson started cranking away as soon as he left office – but Carole Geithner has beaten her husband to the punch in the world of publishing. Her new book, If Only, just hit Easy Street’s desk today courtesy of Scholastic Inc.’s marketing department.
We were expecting this book, since Vogue’s profile of Tim Geithner gave readers a heads-up that his wife was working on a book. Vogue’s reporter, Rebecca Johnson, wrote, “To this day, Geithner’s wife, whom he met when they were both students at Dartmouth, doesn’t speak to reporters. Next year, she is publishing her first book, a young-adult novel dealing with grief issues, but, according to one source, has insisted the Geithner name not be used in its promotion.
On the promotional letter we received from Scholastic, Mrs. Geithner’s author bio ends understatedly but still name-checks her prominent husband: “This is her first novel. She lives with her husband Timothy Geithner and her family in Maryland.”
The book is not for Wall Streeters, unfortunately, although it does deal with grief – and there’s plenty of that to go around these days in finance.
No, Carole Geithner’s book is for young adults, and the squib on the back comes from no less than Judith Viorst, the author of the classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. (The cover blurb confidently states that “Carole Geithner’s debut novel is nothing short of extraordinary.”)
The book centers around a 13-year-old girl, Corinna, who has just lost her mother and struggles with grief for a year afterward. It sounds like Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking for schoolkids, and seems to belong more to the Judy Blume genre of tackling big, difficult issues in a regular-kid way. (No vampires in this one.)
Easy Street doesn’t usually review young adult books – if we did, we’d put in our vote for A Wrinkle in Time and Tuck Everlasting – but we cracked this one open and read a few chapters in the 336 pages. In our opinion, it’s pretty good: readable and accessible and pitch-perfect in describing the mind of a 13-year-old girl who’s normal and not an aspirational, conniving character on Dynasty, as so many depictions of teenagers are these days.
Here’s a sample from an early chapter where Corinna has to face the first day of school, just weeks after her mom has died:
‘Bye, honey. Have a great day,’ a mom says, hugging her daughter in the Westhaven Middle School parking lot. POW. It’s the first morning of eighth grade, and I feel like someone has just socked me in the stomach. Maybe it’s more of a stab. Whatever it is, it hurts. … That’s when I freeze. How can I continue to put one foot in front of the other when I can barely breathe? How can I smile and talk to everyone like I’m the old me, like nothing has changed?
Mrs. D asks our group to come up with a list of advice for kids or grown-ups who know someone whose parent died. It’s harder to do than I would have thought. We all have an easier time coming up with things people should not say. ‘Don’t cry’ is out. ‘I know just how you feel’ is really out. So are, ‘Everything is going to be just fine,’ and ‘Everything happens for a reason.’
We agree that there is no one right thing to say or do, but that somehow you have to let the person know you care, and that the worst thing to do is ignore them or pretend that this huge thing didn’t happen.
That’s just good advice for adults, too.
The Geithners are infamously private, and the only personal details that have leaked into the press seem to center around Tim Geithner’s love of cooking (Vogue: “If you’re invited to the Geithners’ for dinner, the secretary himself will probably have cooked it. Barefoot.” The New York Times: “He had all the minced garlic in one area ready to go, and it looked very easy.”)
But one anecdote from the Vogue article shows Carole Geithner’s emotional effect on her husband:
Geithner’s wife, Carole Sonnenfeld Geithner, a therapist who specializes in grief counseling, often tells him he’s not showing enough emotion toward people suffering in this economy, but once you’ve mastered the stoicism to endure a face-to-face insult, it can be challenging to switch gears to empathy for the unemployed or outrage for the venal. “Let me tell you what I tell my wife,” Geithner explains. “What you say in these jobs is very important, and it takes a lot of discipline and care not to be provoked or react. The price of doing that is masking a lot of emotion. I understand that people want to understand you and get a feel for who you are. But it’s hard to do that in the political theater of a congressional hearing.”
So it sounds like no matter how sensitive Carole Geithner’s writing may be, it still won’t make the U.S. Treasury Secretary warmer and fuzzier. But now, at least, Mrs. Geithner has a wider audience for her ideas.