Thursday, May 29, 2008

feminism and choices

The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: Chapters in this novel alternate between the modern-day lives of a group of women in New York City, all of whom have left careers behind to raise their children, and stories of their mothers or other women from an earlier generation, all of whom are feminists in their own way.

Wolitzer is telling us two things, I think. First, by contrasting the lives of mothers in the 1960s and '70s with those of their daughters in the late '90s and early 21st century, Wolitzer asks questions about what happened to the feminism that the earlier generation fought for. Is it lost because the next generation chose not to take advantage of it, or is it preserved because each woman has the choice, within her own family circumstances, of whether to work or not, and is not pushed into the role of stay-at-home-mom, merely because that's what is "done"?

And by looking at the lives of women who have been out of the workforce for about 10 years, she is able to describe the rewards as well as the drawbacks to that choice for different women. Wolitzer is not shy about describing either. Some of her characters feel incredibly rewarded by being able to stay home with their children, others are more ambivalent. Some continually toy with the idea of going back to work, while one is eventually forced to go back to work because of financial issues.

Although this novel sometimes reads as a series of vignettes or even interviews, Wolitzer brings it all together for a satisfying conclusion. Wolitzer looks at each character and each situation in a thoughtful way. This book is never preachy or judgmental, but is a gently told story about characters who are each sympathetic in their own way.

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