Women Who Had It All and Chucked It

By Charlotte Bruce Harvey '78 / May/June 2008
May 23rd, 2008
The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer (Riverhead/Penguin).

Motherhood takes a lot out of women, even the Upper West Siders who inhabit Meg Wolitzer's latest novel, The Ten-Year Nap; they're stay-at-home-moms who never expected to stop working. "I'll definitely be back in twelve weeks," Amy Lamb assures her law-firm colleagues. "So nobody take my coffee mug."

But Amy doesn't go back. Now, after dropping off her son at the private school she and her husband can't afford, she grabs coffee with other moms. Among them is Roberta Sokolov, a painter whose gift for portraiture vanished when motherhood absorbed her creative energy. Karen Ip, a mathematician, interviews for jobs but turns them all down.

Then Penny Ramsey enters their lives. "She was tiny, golden-headed, pretty, intellectually rigorous," Wolitzer writes. "Wife to an aggressive young hedge-fund manager and mother to an extroverted, confident son and two sylphlike teenaged daughters," Penny also runs a museum; she has a power job, not "one of those vague 'consulting' jobs some women held, where the hours were flexible to the point of nonexistence."

Like a modern-day Jane Austen, Wolitzer wryly details her characters' social and economic woes: Amy Lamb's feminist mother can't understand how her daughter, who had so much, could throw it all away, while Amy's husband, sinking under their bills, begins forging expense reports.

When Amy and her friends finally awaken, Wolitzer holds her usually acerbic tongue. Like a good mom, she lets her characters unfold their slightly cramped wings and gently shoves them out of the nest.

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May/June 2008