New Novel About Motherhood Tackles Work-Life Issues Head-On
What sleep-deprived new mother could stroll pass a copy of The Ten Year Nap without at least pausing to take a quick browse? It's not just the word "nap" that is enticing. The cover image of the clock (set a few minutes before 7 am, the motherhood morning rush hour) also conspires to draw the reader in.
No doubt about it. Novelist Meg Wolitzer knows her audience (any modern mom). And because she's so familiar with the politics and geography of modern day motherhood (hardly surprising, given that she is the mother of two teenagers herself), she didn't have any illusions about being able to slip a novel like hers under the literary world radar screen.
Delving as it does into the choices mothers make about going back to work or not going back to work after baby (assuming, of course, that mothers have any choice at all); and, if they do take time off to for a number of years, how the work world goes on without them while they're immersed in the work and wonder of raising a child, the novel is too honest and too enjoyable a read to miss.
Wolitzer had anticipated that the book would generate some buzz ("Fiction doesn't always have a subject that people are as passionate about") but she's been surprised by the way interviewers want her to take sides in the so-called mommy wars -- a debate that many mothers argue is more a media invention than a bonafide chasm between real mothers. (Amy, one of Wolitzer's four lead characters, questions the authenticity of the mommy wars debate, inside the novel: "Maybe the idea of the supposed tension between working and non-working mothers had been put out in the world just to cause divisiveness," she remarks.  )
While Salon may have managed to convince her to stake out more of a position than she might have liked on this issue, Wolitzer stresses that, as a novelist, it's not her job to take sides, but rather to create a world in which ideas about what's working and what's not working for families today can be explored through the lives of her characters.
It was the desire to explore multiple perspectives on this issue that inspired her to write this novel in the first place. After getting to know other mothers through her children's school, Wolitzer began to see that all mothers' lives are "difficult and complicated". On a personal level, she found that her early instinct to judge other mothers gave way to a desire to understand those mothers and to reach out in friendship.
I had the opportunity to interview Meg Wolitzer in early June, just prior to the Toronto leg of her book tour.
What's your take on this issue? Do you think we have a lot more "talk" on family-friendly work policies than "walk"? Should government or business be doing more to help families to meet their conflicting responsibilities as parents and employees? (The gap between the school day and the work day is just the most visible example of how the two worlds don't mesh very well.) Are you less likely to judge other parents as you becoming a more experienced parent yourself?