Despite the hard work --- both physical and emotional --- that it takes to be a mother caring for her children full time, some people still ask that burning question: “What do you do all day?” The ironies and paradoxes of the stay-at-home mom are the focus of Meg Wolitzer's latest novel, THE TEN-YEAR NAP.
Not napping but raising children are four ladies, diverse in interests and background who came to know each other because their sons attended the same Manhattan private school. Each was once a career woman who chose to be home with the kids at least until she was older. They are Karen, a mathematician; Roberta, an artist and activist; Jill, a film producer; and at the center, a lawyer named Amy. They meet many mornings at the Golden Horn for breakfast and coffee, and to commiserate and inspire each other.
Karen is happy and still deeply in love with her husband, as is Roberta. Yet Roberta wishes she could create art like she used to. Jill has recently moved out of the city to the suburbs and feels lonely and isolated from her friends. Amy, Jill's closest pal, is feeling a bit restless but begins to feed off the energy of another mom, Penny Ramsey, who seems to have it all. Amy's brief friendship with Penny, based on a secret, draws her away from the others until a disastrous shared vacation brings her back solidly into their fold. Wolitzer keenly explores the fragility of adult female friendships as well as the bonds and loyalties.
But the real story is about motherhood --- how it both changes and solidifies who you are. It’s not merely about “opting out” of the workforce but about women trying to avoid opting out of the activities and thoughts that are essential to them and contribute to their identity both as a mother and beyond that role. By occasionally leaving her present-day story and briefly looking at the mothers of her protagonists when they were young parents themselves, Wolitzer examines the promise and realities of feminism and the role of intergenerational expectations. She also neatly throws in some thought-provoking glimpses into the role and responsibilities of today's dads.
Despite a few unsuccessful but very short tangents, THE TEN-YEAR NAP is an intelligent book. Wolitzer's detailed writing is crisp and lovely (although it does suffer a touch as the novel goes on and the characters are fleshed out), and her pacing is fantastic. Her protagonists feel real and sympathetic, flawed and compelling. Although working moms seem like alien creatures here and those who stay at home with no regrets are non-existent, the author for the most part does a good job discussing this hotbed of issues without seeming preachy or cavalier. Her focus is on a particular type of woman, represented in a variety of forms by Karen, Jill, Roberta and Amy, who must decide if and when to return to work and in what type of job they will find fulfillment and purpose.
It is in the small moments of her characters’ lives where Wolitzer's writing really shines: the hectic mornings getting children dressed for school, the quiet distance between husbands and wives, the moments of self-doubt and frustration, the times of simple joys, the momentary but profound realization that time is marching forward and that one’s mark is made through action or inaction. THE TEN-YEAR NAP captures these well and engrosses the reader, making for an overall satisfying read.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 23, 2011
The Ten-year Nap