The protagonist of Ayelet Waldman's "The Big Nap" is Juliet Applebaum, a graduate of Harvard Law and a former public defender. After marrying the love of her life, Peter, she moves to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, Juliet rarely sees Peter anymore, since he is busy most of the time developing a television pilot. Juliet is now a stay-at-home mom, who dearly loves her adorable three-year-old daughter, Ruby, and her four-month-old son, Isaac. However, Juliet is suffering from acute sleep deprivation, leaking nipples and a lack of adult conversation.
So what's an overtired and understimulated mother to do? Butt into other people's business, of course! Juliet delves into the diappearance of an eighteen-year-old Chasidic girl named Fraydle Finkelstein, who baby sat for Juliet's kids on one occasion, and who then disappeared without a trace.
Juliet uses her investigative powers, her contacts from her working days as a lawyer, and her innate nosiness to solve the question of what happened to Fraydle. Did the girl run away to avoid an arranged marriage she didn't want? Or did something more sinister happen to her? Since her parents refuse to report Freydle's disappearance to the police, Juliet feels that it is her duty to investigate.
When Juliet visits her mother and father in New Jersey, she even takes a side trip to Borough Park, Brooklyn. She interviews Freydle's prospective bridegroom, and little by little, she fits the pieces together until, voila, she solves the crime.
Waldman has a wry and clever sense of humor, and there are many laugh-out-loud passages in "The Big Nap." In fact, the first page has such a funny scene that I laughed out loud on a public bus and drew puzzled looks from my fellow passengers. Waldman's takes on breastfeeding, sleep-and-husband deprivation, weight gain after pregnancy and a mother's love-hate relationship with her small children are not only funny but real.
The mystery is not too believable, nor is it realistic that any Chasid would give Juliet the time of day, much less reveal any inside information to her. However, the conceit of mysteries like this is that people talk to the investigator, even if she has no business asking any questions in the first place.
However, Waldman nicely describes some of the dynamics of the Chasidic community from the vantage point of a non-Orthodox Jew. The mystery is engrossing, if somewhat far-fetched, and you could do worse than spend an afternoon with the amusing Juliet Applebaum, mommy and sleuth.