Friday, March 26, 2010

The Ten-Year Nap

In "The Ten-Year Nap" (Riverhead Books, 2008, $16, paperback, 383 pp.)Meg Wolitzer writes about four female friends in New York who left their careers for motherhood.

Each of the four has a somewhat different take on that decision.

Amy Lamb, an attorney who plans to return to her legal career after maternity leave to have her son, Mason, finds herself in a decade long haze of enjoying stay-at-home mom-hood immensely while turning a blind eye to the family's growing debt that results from her missing income. Amy is the daughter of a renowned feminist novelist - a pioneer in making the case for women to work outside of the home. Talk about conflicted!

Jill Hamlin, best friend since college of Amy, inherited a large sum from her parents' business and no longer needs to work. After 9/11 and the adoption of an infant girl from Russia, she and her husband move to the New Jersey suburbs. There, Jill frets over her daughter's cognitive growth and makes a conscious choice NOT to make friends.

Karen Yip, math genius, leaves her job as a statistical analyst to raise her twin boys. Despite her love of numbers, Karen doesn't return to work. But she still thinks about it and, in fact, occasionally interviews for positions. She is invariably hired, but always refuses. No matter: Her husband, also some kind of math genius, makes tons of money.

Roberta Sokolov, starving artist, puts her work on hold to raise her son and daughter. She daily does projects which she considers "craft" and not art with the kids. Her husband, whose dream it is to be a puppeteer, takes a day job doing "regular" work to support the family.

As the title suggests, a decade after making the choice to exit the career track, the four friends find themselves at a bit of a crossroads. The children no longer need constant supervision. The women are no longer content just to carouse over brunch at their favorite diner.

Told from the viewpoints of these women, Wolitzer's intelligently-written novel seems very true to me. The dialogues, the petty arguments, the small personal triumphs - all of these seem pretty accurate with regard to discussions I've had with friends and mothers.

I would say one of the main themes of the book is that women are empowered to do anything they want - stay home with the kids, work, don't work, go back to work after a time, finish school -it's all OK. And no one's perfect.

There were some witty bits, melancholy bits, some sexy bits and some, well - snoozy bits. I thought the novel -hefty at nearly 400 pages - lagged a bit at times and so I occasionally needed to take my own nap. But overall, quite satisfying and insightful.

Wolitzer's other books include "The Position" and "The Wife," a New York Times Notable Book.

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