*We interrupt our regularly-scheduled blog programming for a Tuesday book review; this week’s version of Ten on Tuesday will appear on Thursday.*
(Advisory note: I was offered the opportunity to review this book by MotherTalk, which arranged for me to receive a promotional copy; I received no other compensation.)
The Ten-Year Nap
Riverhead Books, 2008 (ISBN 1594489785 / 9781594489785)
Fiction, 368 pages
First Sentence: All around the country, the women were waking up.
Book Description: For a group of four New York friends, the past decade has been largely defined by marriage and motherhood. Educated and reared to believe that they would conquer the world, they then left jobs as corporate lawyers, investment bankers, and film scouts to stay home with their babies. What was meant to be a temporary leave of absence has lasted a decade. Now, at age forty, with the halcyon days of young motherhood behind them and without professions to define them, Amy, Jill, Roberta, and Karen face a life that is not what they were brought up to expect but seems to be the one they have chosen.
But when Amy gets to know a charismatic and successful working mother of three who appears to have fulfilled the classic women’s dream of having it all-work, love, family-without having to give anything up, a lifetime’s worth of concerns, both practical and existential, opens up. As Amy’s obsession with this woman’s bustling life grows, it forces the four friends to confront the choices they’ve made in opting out of their careers-until a series of startling events shatters the peace and, for some of them, changes the landscape entirely.
Comments: There’s an interesting quirk in human nature that sometimes prompts us to immerse ourselves in other people’s lives and stories when there are things in our own we’re not up to dealing with. That may be one of the reasons, recognized or not, that some of us become avid readers, but I know that I’ve had personal experience with it. It struck me that this is going on with Amy Lamb, one of the main characters in Meg Wolitzer’s The Ten Year Nap, when she gets caught up in a new friendship with Penny Ramsey, whose son attends the same private New York City school that Amy’s does, but whose life doesn’t seem to have much in common with Amy’s otherwise.
Amy and her closest friends have reached a stage in parenthood where their kids are old enough to start operating with some independence from their mothers, but having chosen to give up their careers to focus on their children, the mothers are starting to wonder what’s next for them. Although none truly want to return to their former professions, they’re thinking they should be doing something else. Amy’s involvement with Penny provides both a focus for and diversion from these questions; Jill finds herself lonely and at loose ends after a move to the suburbs, and uncertain of her attachment to her adopted daughter; Roberta takes up causes; and Karen goes on frequent interviews for jobs she doesn’t really want.
Wolitzer shifts back and forth among her characters’ stories, although Amy’s is the primary one, and this allows her to explore multiple perspectives; I think this is one of the strengths of the book. I also liked her inclusion of their backstories, exploring their upbringings and relationships with their own mothers. It seems that all of them were raised in homes that were strongly affected by the opportunities that opened up to women in the “second-wave” feminism of the 1960’s and ’70’s, and that these mothers expected that their daughters would keep moving forward; Amy’s mother Antonia, in particular, is frankly a bit puzzled by the lives of Amy and her friends, since they look a lot like what Antonia’s generation wanted to change in the first place.
I also appreciated the fact that, with Amy and Roberta, Wolitzer incorporated the financial challenges of trying to maintain a middle-class lifestyle on one income in 21st-century America; I sometimes feel that this aspect of the choice to have one parent at home doesn’t get quite enough discussion.
I really hope this book doesn’t get dumped into the “mommy wars” pile and left there, because it deserves better. While Meg Wolitzer, a working writer for 25 years with a husband and two teenagers, admits to having been judgmental about stay-at-home mothers prior to writing The Ten Year Nap, I thought that the book was pretty well-balanced, thoughtful, and sympathetic. The employment of multiple character perspectives helps with that, since it’s a built-in balancing device; at the same time, I think that there might have been more development of individual characters if there hadn’t been quite so many of them. Having said that, I found all of the women’s stories interesting and appreciated getting to know them, and I think that their issues and choices give them – and readers – plenty of things to think and talk about.
Read an interview with Meg Wolitzer about this book on Salon.com.
This sounds like a really interesting book. I missed out on the chance to get it from Mother Talk because my gmail was sending their emails to the spam box for a while. I might still get it on my own, though. Nice review!
I seem to be noticing book covers more since our discussion about them last week. 🙂 The title’s catchy too.
Your review has me curious about this book, Florinda. I will have to add it ot my wish list.
Dewey – Thanks! I think it would be a great book-club pick, because I can definitely see people having strong opinions about it and a lively discussion.
Literary Feline – It is a pretty good cover, Wendy – I hadn’t paid all that much attention to it, but I agree.
You might want to follow the link to MotherTalk and see what the other blog-tour reviewers think of the book.
Hi, it’s Meg Wolitzer here. I was pleased to read the post about the book and the follow-up remarks. For me, writing the novel was a chance to talk about this subject like a novelist, and not in an incendiary take-a-stand way. Novels are about observation, and I just wanted to look at these women, and describe what I saw. Thanks so much for reading.
Meg – This wasn’t the first of your books that I’ve read (those were The Wife and The Position, but I think I liked this one best. I really liked how you approached your subject here.
Thanks for stopping by and checking out the review!
Reviews are varied, but all seem to speak to the quality of the story and the writing. I think I’ll look into this one.
Daisy – I think you’ll find it worth reading.
I’ve seen you on Work It, Mom! and Mid-Century Modern Moms, so it’s nice to have you stop by my place – thanks!
after i originally read your review, i put this one on my to-read list. a few months ago i got a chance to get a copy of the trade paperback for review. i enjoyed reading it and am working on my review now.