Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Review: The Ten Year Nap

Summary: For a group of four New York friends the past decade has been defined largely by marriage and motherhood, but it wasn’t always that way. Growing up, they had been told that their generation would be different. And for a while this was true. They went to good colleges, and began high-powered careers. But after marriage and babies, for a variety of reasons, they decided to stay home, temporarily, to raise their children. Now, ten years later, they are still at home, unsure how they came to inhabit lives so different from the ones they expected—until a new series of events begins to change the landscape of their lives yet again, in ways they couldn’t have predicted.

Written in Meg Wolitzer’s inimitable, glittering style, The Ten-Year Nap is wickedly observant, knowing, provocative, surprising, and always entertaining, as it explores the lives of its women with candor, wit, and generosity. -- Riverhead Books

THE TEN YEAR NAP by Meg Wolitzer is the Preschool Moms Book Club's pick for April. Since I had already received a copy of this book, I was thrilled when my good friend chose it as her selection. I have been interested in this book for awhile because I thought it related to where I'm at in my life right now. I also thought it would be very appropriate for our book club to discuss since our membership is about half stay-at-home mothers and half working mothers.

I had read many reviews about this book and quite a few of them aren't very complimentary. My one good friend read it and hated it, so I was a little concerned that I wouldn't enjoy this book. It's kind of a love/hate book for many readers. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how much I did like this book. I love the title -- "The Ten Year Nap" and thought it was perfect for this story (and even my life right now.) My oldest daughter is turning 10 this summer and I've not worked full-time since she was born. In fact, I have been a full-time stay-at-home mommy for a little over five years. I was around the same age as many of the women in the novel, and I could totally relate to them. That's not to say that I felt like I had things in commons with all of the characters, but some of their comments were so insightful and mirrored some of my own feelings.

What I found so weird for me as I read this book is that I wanted to remember certain passages. I rarely, if ever, find myself grabbing my post-its and marking pages, but so much of this book really spoke to me. I don't know if these are going to make much sense out of context, but the author's words were so close to things that I've actually thought and/or said. Here are just a few examples:

Was education meaningless if you didn't do something with it, or was it justifiable in and of itself, bolstering you for the world that lay ahead, whatever it turned out to be? I think I asked myself this for years when I wasn't entirely sure about my decision to stay at home.

"I don't know," said Karen. "Why do you say "at least" they're trying? Does everyone always to 'do' something? Can't they just enjoy their lives? I do." I loved that Karen pointed out that you can be fulfilled as a stay-at-home mom -- you just have to choose to be happy.

But then it occurred to her that some people might in fact ask the same question about Amy: What did she do with herself all day? I think we've all asked that about other women whether we work or stay-at-home.

But mostly, though, he knew that if you longed for what you did not have, then you would be one of those unhappy people you could find anywhere in any setting, the ones who couldn't appreciate what they had as long as they saw something they did not have. How true is this statement? It's taken me years to realize the wisdom in this thought.

I know some bloggers and reviewers took a little offense to this novel and how Ms. Wolitzer portrayed stay-at-home mothers. I think that's one of the reasons that I appreciated this book so much was that it could mean so many things to so many women. I can certainly understand how they perceived some of the women's comments as an attack on staying at home and how they felt that being a stay-at-home mother isn't validated in the same way as being a working mom; however, I kind of walked away with a different message. While so many of the mothers did whine and cry about the situations in their life (to the point of annoyance), I thought it reflected on them as individuals rather than as stay-at-home mothers as a whole. I was left with the feeling that how I choose to perceive my decision to stay home with my children in entirely my own making -- I can choose to be happy and fulfilled or I can choose to feel like I'm wasting my education and skills. All I know is that when I die, no one is going to write on my tombstone that I'm a terrific worker. But I sure hope I will be remembered as a wonderful mother.

Before any of you think that I am against moms who take care of their kids and work, I want to clear that up right now. I don't believe that there is a right choice -- there is only a right choice for you and your family (and sometimes it's not even a choice if you need the money.) And, I'll admit that there are many days where I wish I could go to work, get a paycheck and talk to adults, etc. I am just so blessed that my husband has given me the choice (and option) to stay-at-home; and I feel that it's the right decision for me at this stage of my life.

One thing that I found interesting about this novel was how the author handled the concept of feminism. So many of the 40 something women had mothers who "paved the way" for their careers. It was almost as if some of their mothers felt as if they were taking a step backwards for choosing to stay at home with their children. My mother chose to stay home with my sister and me so I never felt this pressure, but I definitely don't look at staying home with your kids as a step backwards on the feminist movement. I think I see it a little bit differently -- I think that I have the choice to either work, stay home, or both is how the feminists paved the way for me and other mothers. I think this idea is fascinating and I'm excited to delve into a little deeper at our meeting.

I think THE TEN YEAR NAP is going to be an amazing discussion book, and I can't wait to talk about it with my friends next week. I think we all appreciate each other's decisions to stay at home or work, so I don't think the discussion is going to be uncomfortable at all. I'm actually looking forward to having some dissenting opinions on the book -- so often, we all agree on the book and there's not a whole lot to talk about. I don't think that will be true for this novel, and I'm pretty sure that there will be some heated discussion about the characters. There is a reading guide to get our conversation going; however, I don't think that's going to be a problem.

Thanks to Caitlyn and FSB Associates for sending me a copy of this book.

20 comments:

Molly said...

Well, since I am new to the book blogging community - I had not heard of this book before and your review is the first I have read. It sounds like a wonderful read --- for me anyway.

I am at a different stage of life now. My youngest is a sophomore in high school. I was a stay-at-home mom for 15 years and absolutely loved it. Even though I was 'college educated' - that is what I wanted to do most in life. In fact, I was quite angry when I was "called" out of the home to become a teacher 7 years ago. BUT....I have now grown to love my teaching career and have realized that it is possible to have a career and be a "good" parent (I thought that one would suffer in order to be successful at the other)

I will definitely be checking out this book soon.

Thank you so much for a great review!

bermudaonion said...

The reviews for this book are all over the place. I think it's time for women to stop bickering over the right thing to do and support each other and our choices. I think it's wonderful that we do have a choice today and I also think that neither choice is right for every woman and every child.

Chris said...

Wow, what a great review! I've heard of this book but was wary of it. I thought maybe it was a whiny 'woe is me' kind of book but it doesn't sound that way from what you say.

I do think happiness is a choice, no matter who you are and what you do. The grass can be greener on every side. I stay at home and some days are better than others. Sometimes I wonder why I chose it! But for the most part I am happy about it.

I love that we have the choice now. Some women just can't do it and that's ok. Everyone has their own reasons for or against- it's a personal decision.

I agree with Bermuda, enough bickering. There are too many more important things to discuss.

Karlie said...

I think this book would be a great discussion for my book club as most of us are stay-at-home moms.

Beth F said...

Great review. I think freedom for women is all about choices -- in every decision we make.

Jennsbookshelf said...

Great review! I agree, a very touchy subject. After having my oldest, I went back to work after 3 months. It was just automatic, something that I thought had to be done. However, when we had our youngest (now three) I wished that it would be possible for me to be a stay at home mom. I think about all the things I'm missing by not spending that precious time with them. But I do understand that by working, I am providing them with things that they might not have access to. Some are material, but I'm also showing them how successful women can be in the work world. They see that I can juggle being a mom, and working full time. It's definitely improved the woman I have become, and I hope it has improved their lives as well.

Meg said...

Hi-- I'm the author of the novel. I see that there's a lot of differing opinion out there about the book... I just tried to write what I'd seen, and not take an over-arching view of what my characters should or shouldn't do with their lives. My primary role, as a fiction writer, was to describe in depth what it's like when women leave work to stay home with their kids. For me, mostly, the book is really a novel about the middle of life. Thanks for reading it--

Meg

Elizabeth said...

Finally, a book I read before you! ha!

I loved it. LOVED it. I remember reviewing it on my blog. To summarize: It had me shouting YES and reading parts out loud to my husband (which I'm sure was very annoying!)

I thought it was a great book.

Moms are prickly and defensive on the work at home or work outside the home issue. I think it's a huge waste of time. I've done both and neither is easier in the other. (Although, I will say I've had less guilt working as our home's supreme commander)

We moms need to support each other regardless of our choices and quit the competition!

laura said...

I read this book with my book club, which is made up primarily of stay-at-home moms that have been out of the workforce for about 10 years. I was the only one that loved it, which surprised me.

The other moms seemed to be hoping that the book would offer a neat, clean solution to the dilemnas of returning to work after an extended absence. I liked that it recognized that there are no easy answers.

Jen - devourer of books said...

I've heard a wide range of opinions on this book, but after your review I think I am going to have to read it. I'm going part-time when my maternity leave is over after our son is born this summer. I wish I could quit entirely and be a stay at home mom, but that currently isn't totally feasible with my husband being a high school teacher. I have a college degree and am unhappy if not learning something new, but I have felt for a long time that I would love nothing more than to stay at home with my children, at least when they're little and I don't think that is anti-feminist or degrading to my intellect. I think the true measure of progress for women is the ability to choose and not feel societal pressure to do one thing or the other.

Jo-Jo said...

Wow that is such a great and honest review. I agree with Kathy in that everyone's situation is different. Not all mothers and children can be created equally as we all have different talents and needs. This does sound like it would be a great book for discussion, so I hope that you share with us what the rest of your group thought of it. Thanks for the review Julie!

Ti said...

I think you stated your views very well here. I think the book will get different reviews depending on when it's read. It's one of those timing issues. For you, it happens to relate to what you are epxeriencing or have experienced so you can relate to it better than your friend.

If I read this book during my maternity leave I would probably bawl my eyes out at the thought of having to return to work. However, now after having returned to work, I'm sure I'd have a different take on it now. Know what I mean?

Like you said, everyone tries to do what is best for their family and that is all you can do. I just wish women would support one another more on whatever decision they choose to make.

carolsnotebook said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I have to agree that everyone should make their own choices. I work part-time, but my daughter's in third grade now, so she only has about three hours a week when she's off school and I'm not at home. (She stays at her grandma's or at the after-school program.)I have to admit that I wish I had the summer's off with her.

Kristi said...

I had not heard of this book before - but it just went on my TBR list. I especially like the first quote about usefulness of education if you were a SAHM. I have often questioned that myself and my desire to go back to school - as I am not sure I want to go back to work!

PeachyTO said...

Ahh, you've really given me the itch for this one. Thanks for the great review.

This is the kind of story that book club's are made for, when people come out of their shells and share what they really feel.

Enjoy yourself. ; )

nbbaker1102 said...

I won this book from a blog a while back. I have it waiting to be read. I think I may just move it up the TBR list.

Great review.

Kim said...

I think you have a great balanced perspective on the issue of being a SAHM. It is wild how controversial this issue can be, but I do think it is a gift that its still our choice.

Great review Julie!

S. Krishna said...

This book looks really interesting. I've got this one on my shelf waiting to me read! I loved the way you picked passages out of the book and talked about how they affected you.

Reading Mom said...

I just reviewed this book. I am so happy to find your blog. My favorite thing to do after a book is write my own review, then surf the blogging world to find other non-publisher reviews. I will be coming back to your blog over and over!

Find my review at:
http://margooutandabout.blogspot.com/2009/08/book-review-ten-year-nap-by-meg.html

Cathy Marie Buchanan said...

I am very late to the game here but I read The Ten Year Nap over the holidays and really loved it. I feel like I saw shades of myself and my girlfriends in the characters and that Wolitzer did an excellent job of truthfully capturing women's experience.