At first, I didn’t really care for Meg Wolitzer’s The Ten Year Nap — I felt like it was judging me. But, ultimately, I think the book makes you recognize there are lots of ways to live, lots of ways to be happy, that being a woman (and a mother) is complicated, being married is complicated, and you may surprise yourself with your capacity to change your life when you need to.

 

The book centers on four women (although their mothers and few semi-famous women get short chapters from their perspectives as well) — Amy, Jill, Karen, and Roberta — all around 40, all mothers, all stay-at-home moms who thought they would be doing something else. Plot-wise, not too much happens, but there’s a lot of growth of the women throughout the book, which is what I think redeemed it for me. It would be a much more depressing book if it were about four women who aren’t exactly where they thought they would be who are incapable of making changes…

I almost gave up on the book because on page 11, it made me feel like a bit of a cliché:

Amy was among the block of English majors in her class who gamely applied to law school. They knew, these English majors, that literature was an open field and law school was an enclosed pasture, but they were practical too. No one would take care of you forever; the world would not love and protect you. You had to know how to do something well. This was different from a passion for your work, and while it was always best to have one of those, no one could give it to you or tell you how to acquire it.

Well, that’s me in a nutshell. AND I decided to become a lawyer the year this book was published, so who knows what my life would be like if I’d picked this book up in 2008 when it was published? So, as I said, I was feeling a little judged. But, like the characters in the book, well, life took me places in the last decade I did not expect. Ultimately, their ability to make change was kind of if not inspiring to me, it was reassuring — there’s still time to change your life. And change it again. And again. At one point one character tells the other, dealing with her unhappiness living in the suburbs, maybe it’s best to think of this as part of your life story, chapter 8: Jill’s Suburban years. Nothing is forever.

The book doesn’t just say like, you can change your life, don’t be sad. As one character puts it – “Life was difficult and strange; the was obvious to anyone who really paid attention.” The book says, there are different ways to be happy, there are different compromises that you can make, there is still time to make changes, even when you feel you’ve left yourself behind.  Amy’s mother sums this up when she asks Amy why she hasn’t found something to do that “would matter and would also make you feel good.” And Amy says she doesn’t know why she hasn’t, she thought she would, and her mom replies: “Well, you’ll keep figuring it out.”

It is very much a story about mothers and the hopes they have for their daughters. Amy’s mother is a second wave feminist who doesn’t love the fact that her daughter has given up being a lawyer; Jill’s mother kills herself leaving her mark and her absence forever, Karen’s mother is an immigrant who doesn’t understand why her daughter would want to work if she doesn’t have to, and all of the characters are dealing with their own personhood and motherhood.

There is a depressing moment (for me), where the former-English major husband seems to have lost his love of reading:

It was as though he, who had always been a great reader, had forgotten how to read. Like most people, he’d somehow recently lost patience for the slow unraveling that took place in novels, the need for the reader to wait in order to find out what happened in the end. Oddly, she realized, the boys were the ones who could still read long novels; this was the one trace of the previous world that they had inherited and  that their parents were starting to shed.

I will concede that having kids must make it a lot harder to get 100 books read in a year, but not that people can stop being readers. I do spend fewer nights under the covers with a flashlight than I did as a kid (I now know how important sleep is!) — but I find reading as enrapturing as I did then. Fortunately, towards the end of the book, as the characters start making some changes, dad gets some of his reading mojo back.

I also read What to Do When I’m Gone: A Mother’s Wisdom to Her Daughter this weekend, which is more of a graphic advice coffee table book (so it doesn’t count in my book count), but I would say if you know someone who’s lost their mother, they might get something out of this book. The illustrator came up with the idea because in her twenties she became worried about how she would cope without her mother’s advice if her mother were to die. The happy part is that her mother isn’t dead, and the two are clearly close. I think anyone who loses their mother in their twenties or thirties will identify with the idea captured by this book (I say that because the book sort of assumes that you’re not a kid but you’re haven’t had kids yet/made big life choices yet) — if you can’t have your mother’s wisdom, you can have some hilarious wisdom from Hallie Bateman’s mom. The book made me laugh, cry (a lot), included some recipes I need to try, and I like Bateman’s illustrations.

Currently reading: The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore and trying catch up on my issues of The New Yorker.