Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer

I have conflicting feelings about this book. On the one hand, I don't want a book that offers a pat Hollywood ending. On the other hand, a hefty dose of stark realism leaves me overwhelmed and looking for a bit of escapist literature. I know I can't have it both ways but finishing this book left me... squirmy. Odd choice of words, but I find myself mentally flip-flopping this book through my mind.

The premise of Ten-Year Nap is that four women find themselves at loose ends as they discover that their children no longer need them in the same way they did when they were younger. As the story revolves through the lives of the different characters, the innerworkings of their lives develop. It would be too easy to say that they all want to go back to work or that they all want to stay home. Wolitzer does a good job of looking at the individuality of life experiences to show how what one mother wants makes no sense for another mother. I respect that aspect of her book. Moms are ridiculously hard on one another and Wolitzer shows that they need to focus on themselves and not make assumptions about what should or will work for someone else.

The book also jumps back, in short intervals, to examine the lives of the mothers' mothers (and a couple of famous completely unconnected women). Wolitzer shows what each of the characters' moms wanted for her daughter. Examining the difference in the expectations of the previous generation's women strengthened the story because it helped to show how and why the 40-something women acted as wives and mothers.

One aspect that caught my attention was the discrepancy Wolitzer felt existed between the 40-somethings and the 30-somethings. She seemed to feel that the younger moms had more active husbands - more likely to be stay at home dads, more supportive of raising young children. I don't know if I buy that distinction. Admittedly, I fall right in the middle of those two groups and I could see characteristics of both generations in my husband. So maybe Wolitzer knows something I don't.

In the end I'm glad that I read the book. I did spend a lot of time thinking about my choices and my friends' choices. I have gone over where I want to be in 5 years when my son is 10 years old and doesn't need me every day when he is in school. Because of this book I will try to focus on my own goals and not subsume myself solely to my role as wife and mother. But, the final outcome  for the mothers was so realistic that I was frustrated. A tinge of hyper-realism and Hollywood-esque endings would not have been remiss. I would like to think that ten years out, some women do end up fulfilling their dreams rather than just trodding through life. Maybe I'm just too optimistic.

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