In those first few moments one knows theyve discovered a treasure trove of observations about being a working mother that are so spot-on and elicit emotions from laughter to tears within even the space of a few sentences.
But working fathers, grandparents, singles in todays “never enough time“ world, and lovers of good fiction, in general, should also consider themselves as likely to enjoy this wonderful novel, which will inevitably be compared to “Bridget Jones Diary,“ but reads more like something Bridget would have written had she been a little older, smarter, more organized, and, of course, a working mother.
Author Pearson is exactly that, as well as a Londoner who has been named Critic of the Year and Interviewer of the Year in the British Press Awards, is a weekly columnist in the London Evening Standard, and a member of the BBC‘s Newsnight Review panel. She and her husband, the elegant New Yorker writer Anthony Lane, have two children.
Without a lot of introduction, here is an excerpt for you to peruse, just as you were settling in to begin the book, which I hope will happen for you in the not too distant future. Here, we meet narrator Kate, the title character who has no illusions about her ability to “do it all:“
“It is the morning of the school carol concert and I am hitting mince pies. No, let us be quite clear about this, I am distressing mince pies, an altogether more demanding and subtle process. Discarding the Sainsbury luxury packaging, I winkle the pies out of their pleated foil cups, place them on a chopping board and bring down a rolling pin on their blameless floury faces. This is not as easy as it sounds, believe me... And homemade is what I‘m after here...All this trouble because of a letter Emily brought back from school ten days ago, now stuck on the fridge with a Tinky Winky magnet, asking if “parents could please make a voluntary contribution of appropriate festive refreshments“ for the Christmas party they always put on after the carols...When they write parents what they really mean, what they still mean, is mothers... And “voluntary“? Voluntary is teacher-speak for “On pain of death and/or your child failing to gain a place at the senior school of your choice.“ As for “appropriate festive refreshments,“ these are definitely not something bought by a lazy cheat in a supermarket. How do I know that? Because I still recall the look my own mother exchanged with Mrs. Frieda Davies in 1974, when a small boy in a dusty green parka approached the altar at Harvest Festival with two tins of Libby‘s cling peaches in a shoe box. The look was unforgettable. It said, What kind of sorry slattern has popped down to the Spar on the corner to celebrate God‘s bounty when what the good Lord clearly requires is a fruit medley in a basket with cellophane wrap?..“You see, Katharine,“ Mrs. Davies explained later, doing that disapproving upsneeze thing with her sinuses over teacakes, “there are mothers who make an effort like your mum and me. And then you get the type of person who“--prolonged sniff--“don‘t make the effort.“...So before I was really old enough to understand what being a woman meant, I already understood that the world of women was divided in two: there were proper mothers, self-sacrificing bakers of apple pies and well-scrubbed invigilators of the washtub, and there were the other sort. At the age of thirty-five, I know precisely which kind I am, and I suppose that‘s what I‘m doing here in the small hours of the thirteenth of December, hitting mince pies with a rolling pin till they look like something mother-made. Women used to have time to make mince pies and had to fake orgasms. Now we can manage the orgasms, but we have to fake the mince pies. And they call this progress.“
The “distressing“ of the pies is wonderful symbolism for Kates life and how she copes with the never-ending to-do lists she keeps that might, on any given day, include the following:“...Present for Richard (Wine-tasting? Arsenal? Pajamas), In-laws book--The Lost Gardens of Somewhere? Ask Richard to collect dry cleaning. Office party what to wear? Black velvet too small. Stop eating now. Fishnets lilac. Leg wax no time, shave instead. Cancel stress-busting massage. Highlights must book soonest (starting to look like mid-period George Michael). Pelvic floor squeeze! Supplies of Pill!!! Ice cake (royal icing?--chk Delia.) Cranberries. Mini party sausages. Stamps for cards Second class x40. Present for E‘s teacher? And, whatever you do, wean Ben off dummy before Xmas with in-laws. Chase KwikToy, useless mail order present company...“
These lists, compiled as to reveal little bits of truth, just like Jonathan Franzen did in “The Corrections,“ reveal the joy, responsibilities, pains in the butt, and general messiness that comprises the days of her life. The story, about just that, is that rare hybrid of the heartbreakingly sad, hysterically funny, hyper-real, and devastatingly well-written fiction that comes along just every so often.
Within it, Pearson tackles some heady issues affecting women that she and her narrator address through gloriously sharp takes on life (On lack of sleep: “They‘re right to call it a broken night.... You crawl back to bed and you lie there trying to do the jigsaw of sleep with half the pieces missing.“ On baby boys: “A mother of a one-year-old son is a movie star in a world without critics.“ On subtle office dynamics: “If a man has pictures of kids on his desk, it enhances his humanity; if a woman has them it decreases hers. Why? Because he‘s not supposed to be home with the children; she is.“).
The questions Kate poses provide few answers about how to keep all the balls in the air without going crazy at some point, but that is the point. And working women with children will feel that down to their potentially mismatched socks on the day you need to make a good impression at the office, but not to put too fine a point on it, the substance here makes it a thoughtful, entertaining read for both sexes. In fact, one can see a working mother encouraging her mate to not waste any time diving in. Enough of the caveats - this is a real gem about real life, so just read it.