A wise, witty assessment of the contemporary dilemmas of middle-class mothers (in particular: to work or not to work), set in the competitive terrain of New York City parenting.
Using the comfortable format of friendship between four women, Wolitzer’s eighth novel (The Position, 2005, etc.) takes ironic stock of how far females have (and haven’t) come since feminism tried to rearrange the work/life balance between the sexes. Lawyer Amy Lamb has still not gone back to her job after the birth of her son ten years ago. Her good friend Jill, a one-time prizewinner who recently left Manhattan for the suburbs with her family, is finding it hard to fit in. Their circle also includes ex-artist Roberta who, like Amy, feels happier without the pressures of a job, yet senses dissatisfactions and uncertainty about her identity; and mathematician Karen, whose Chinese parents take great satisfaction in her not needing to work. The women meet for coffee or yoga and mutual support. Aside from Jill’s jealousy of Amy’s new friendship with glamorous museum director Penny, unaware that the relationship is driven by a shared secret (Penny’s extramarital affair), plot events are few. Instead, Wolitzer uses modern domesticity as a lens through which to scrutinize mixed feelings about ambition, marriage, aging, money and the peculiar results of the women’s individual choices. Further telling comparisons arise from glimpses of women of their mothers’ generation. Instead of conclusions, there are some gradual changes, sometimes for the better.
A perceptive, highly pleasurable novel that serves as Wolitzer’s up-to-date answer to the old question: “What do women want?”