It appears the weekend slipped away while I was puttering around chasing leaves in the bright autumn sunshine. It was glorious here in the midwest today, a Norman Rockwell version of October, with the fiery golden leaves of giant maples etched against a sky of piercing blue. So bright and beautiful, it almost hurt my eyes. And I was reminded of one of my favorite choral anthems…All Things Bright and Beautiful, by John Rutter, with a sparkling piano accompaniment that propels the melody forward like the wind whirling leaves through the air.
But enough about fall and its splendor…you’re interested in my bookish life this week, and I’m pleased to say my reading this week has been as splendid as the weather.
The Ten Year Nap…I’ve had this on my list for some time, but wasn’t able to snag a copy from the library until Friday. Luckily, I had just finished everything else I had on the go, so was able to dive in immediately.
Wolitzer takes an in-depth look at the whole stay-at-home v. working mom dichotomy – her main characters are modern day professional women who have opted out of their careers to devote all their time to raising children. Ten years have passed, and we find the women beginning to awaken to the reality of life without work and life with children who are growing up and becoming more independent.
The novel centers around Amy Lamb, an attorney, whose son Mason is bright and independent, and seems to need her less and less each day. Amy finds herself groping aimlessly about for something to interest her, and she finds it in the private entanglements of Penny Ramsey, one of the other (working!) mothers at her son’s prep school. Amy’s three best friends also have their say, and we learn something about each one – Jill, whose ambivalent feelings about her adopted child fill her with guilt, Roberta, whose lack of motivation to maintain her artistic endeavors fills her with guilt, and Karen, the brilliant mathematician, who seems perfectly guilt free raising her twin sons, enjoying the weath generated by her husband (another brilliant mathematician).
What happens to Amy (and the other women) as they begin to rouse from their slumber was quite familiar to me. At the heart of the questions Wolitzer raises about working or not, is not simply the idea of going to a job, but having a passion for something, whether you make money at it or not. Being a mother is a passionate undertaking, most especially in the earliest years when the child relies on adults for every aspect of their existence. But motherhood is one of those rare positions that, if you do it well, you gradually work yourself right out of a job. Oh, of course you always have motherly feelings which you’re more than happy to bestow on your children, no matter their age. However, those feelings become less and less in demand, and you find yourself with lots of empty holes where all that passion used to be.
Children…were the most fascinating part of it all. You stayed around your children as long as you could, inhaling the ambient gold shavings of their childhood, and at the last minute you tried to see them off into their life and hoped that the little piece of time you’d given them was enough to prevent them from one day feeling lonely and afraid and hopeless. You wouldn’t know the outcome for a long time.”
Wolitzer’s characters make it clear that not every working parent has a “passion”, that most often men and women’s professional lives are “absorbing, but also pulled along by a current of tedium.” Amy realizes that “work did not make you interesting, interesting work made you interesting.”
“I really want the novel to be about motherhood and work,” Wolitzer said in a Salon interivew, “and also about female ambition and what happens to it over time.” The Ten Year Nap is a feminist novel, Wolizter says, because it “tells the truth about women’s lives. That’s my definition. It’s not demeaning women’s lives. It’s not pitting women against one another.”
And now, my goodness, it’s dark already, and the puppies are begging for their bedtime snack. So I’m off to the bookstack to see what’s up next – isn’t that a delightful task, choosing the next bookish world to enter – and then curling up in my comfy chair with a blanket and some tropical rooibos tea.