Gross (Getting Out, 2002, etc.) pits working mother versus stay-at-home mother in yet another fiction about women’s ambivalent struggle to combine work and family.
Amanda and her lawyer husband Aaron move from Manhattan to the New Jersey suburbs shortly before their baby Malena is born. When a tree falls on their house during a storm, their neighbor Thea and her rock-solid husband Caius invite them to stay in their house. Grateful for Thea’s generous hospitality, Amanda is intimidated by her graceful competence as a housewife and mother. Thea, who has never worked while raising her three children, is jealous and resentful of Amanda for having a new infant to love. Although Amanda senses Thea’s disapproval of her decision to return to work as a book editor, desperation drives Amanda to hire Thea as a babysitter. The women distrust each other yet feel drawn toward friendship. One Friday after a near disaster, they share a kiss of affectionate relief that is vaguely sexual. The following Monday, Thea, uncomfortable with the kiss and afraid she’s growing overly attached to Malena, quits as babysitter.
The women’s friendship sours. When dead animals start appearing on Thea’s doorstep, she suspects and eventually accuses Amanda. Thea clings to her hostility even after Amanda and Aaron rescue Thea’s daughter Carra, who has seriously injured herself while trespassing in their yard. Finally, an Outward Bound trip for Thea, as well as Aaron’s close call on 9/11, give Thea and Amanda a sense of perspective. The narration moves back and forth between the two women. Neither recognizes the other’s insecurity, each is jealous of the other, but the balance of sympathy is weighted toward neurotic Jewish Amanda, who has a sense of humor about her shortcomings that uptight Episcopalian Thea lacks.
Gross gets many emotional details about marriage and the intensity of mother-love right, but she milks her trendy issues to didactic death.