I just finished Meg Wolitzer's The Ten Year Nap. I know that I am a slow reader, but for some reason, this book took me a long time to finish. I am not sure why – it's not a terribly heavy book, and Meg Wolitzer is a very good writer. And it's about a topic of interest to me – the eternal debate about staying home with kids vs. going back to work.
The Ten Year Nap is about a group of four stay-at-home mothers in New York. The titular "ten year nap" represents the years that these moms have spent mothering, as opposed to whatever it is they were doing before they became moms. There's not a whole lot of plot in The Ten Year Nap, but Wolitzer is an expert observer of modern urban parenthood, and her descriptions and occasional gentle mocking of her self-absorbed subjects are astute and at times quite entertaining. I found myself dogearing many pages in this book, nodding and laughing as I read passages that struck me as particularly accurate. Like this one:
Women who worked were exhausted; women who didn't work were exhausted. There was no cure for the oceanic exhaustion that overwhelmed them. If you were a working mother you would always lose in some way, and if you were a full-time mother you would lose too. Everyone wanted something from you; you were hit up the moment you rose from your bed. Everyone hung on you, asking for some thing, reminding you of what you owed them, and though the middle of each school day or workday seemed to be open and available, that wasnt the way it felt.
Or this one:
There were always alternatives to this kind of draining urban life. If you were determined to stay in the area, you could move to one of the other boroughs, as all the practical or adventurous people did, and you could live there decently. Early on, Amy knew couples who had nosed deep into neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The middle class extended its reach, reconfigured its range of territories. Narrow art galleries and cybercafes grew on patches of street beside check-cashing stores and rundown walk-in dentistry centers. Strollers abounded on craggy sidewalks in the steep shadows of the Brooklyn Bridge. Those neighborhoods were overrun with families now, and if the new residents were incidentally knocking out the low-income dwellers, they couldn't really think too much about it; they would surely become squeamish, and then the whole plan would fall apart.
Wolitzer does an admirable job of getting in the heads of both SAHMs and working moms, and exploring the insecurities and hidden desires each type of mother experiences. She doesn't really judge these four women, and in the end, two of the moms go back to work, while two decide to remain SAHMs. She's generally sympathetic to both groups, perhaps because she grasps the reality – that there is no perfect solution. (I did find the title to be somewhat insulting to SAHMs – as if mothering is akin to napping, or checking out from life.)
The Ten Year Nap is not perfect, though. It's slow. Not much happens to propel the plot – and the reader's engagement – forward. I enjoyed reading it, but it didn't grab me and suck me in the way I'd hoped it would, given the subject matter. There are some shorter chapters sprinked throughout that offer the perspective of some women in other geographic areas and/or times of life (all of which had some connection to the main four), and I thought these had mixed success.
I agree whole-heartedly with this review from Book-Blog:
My reaction to the book is mixed. On the one hand, Wolitzer is an excellent writer, peppering her pages with the telling detail, so that individual scenes come alive. Her descriptions can be lovely. And in fact she captures well the conflicted feelings of the modern stay-at-home mom–the discomfort with not contributing something quantifiable to the family coupled with ambivalence about rejoining the work force. That said, the book is vaguely depressing. Wolitzer's women seem to be perpetually morose and unsatisfied, unable to recognize that their lives really aren't that bad. And although they do come across as three-dimensional characters, it's very hard to care about any of them. Nor does the book offer much by way of plot. For all its lovely writing the novel is a chore to get through. I hate to say it, but literally only ten pages from the end I thought I might not have the stamina to finish it.
Yes, exactly. And another thing kept going through my mind - as a working mom who has lived in NY and has many friends still there, I could relate to these characters and enjoyed hearing about them. But I am not sure who else would like this book, other than other moms like me.
I'd love to hear from EDIWTB readers who have read The Ten Year Nap. Poking around online, I see that user reviews are mixed, and I am not surprised. I enjoyed it, and am glad I read it, but I can see why people might have gotten frustrated with it.
Here are some other blog reviews to check out: