Review: The Ten-Year Nap, Meg Wolitzer; or, My Mumsy enjoyed her chocolate cake (a guest review)

So far my mother has only said overwhelmingly positive things in her guest reviews. I feel like y’all will begin to think that my mother likes every book she reads, and look, she doesn’t. There are many books, including some I initially think are a really good idea for a gift, that my mother doesn’t care for at all. She is pleasingly forthright about this, and then I always know what the book’s flaws are, and I have a good notion of whether I will find them to be surmountable. Here is a book my Mumsy did not care for. (P.S. Chocolate cake here means my sisters and me. We are unfailingly delightful. Of course.)

The Ten-Year Nap, by Meg Wolitzer

The “ten-year nap” of Meg Wolitzer’s title is the ten years that each of her female protagonists spends as an at-home mother. And before I review this book, I just want to say this: NAP??? Really, Meg Wolitzer? What an unbelievable insult to every woman (and man) who has worked her tail off caring for infants, toddlers, pre-, middle- and high school-aged children.

The reviewer at Salon suggests that Wolitzer’s “one agenda” is to “tell the truth about the lives” of at-home mothers. If this is a true portrait of their lives, it is a portrait done in mind-numbing, monochromatic, institutional green. We meet Amy, once a half-hearted lawyer, now the mother of young Mason and the wife of Leo, who doesn’t want to have sex with her. Her best friend, the gorgeous blonde Jill, lives in the suburbs and hasn’t made a friend in a year, mostly because all she can think about is her bizarrely disproportionate terror that adopted daughter Nadia may have a learning disability. They are joined by Roberta, the absurdly stereotypical politically active Jewish artist, who has lost her ability to paint; and finally, Karen, (also a walking stereotype), an Asian mother of twins who enjoys nothing more than reciting the Fibonacci sequence to herself. With the exception of Karen, the least-developed of the four characters, all the women are deeply self-absorbed and miserable; each of them believes that her life, and yes, her self, is worthless, because she is no longer doing the job she worked at ten years ago.

Now, forgive me if I sound harsh, but here were my exact thoughts: Okay. You had a choice between chocolate cake and apple pie. You chose the cake. Are you really going to spit out all your cake and fret endlessly about the pie you didn’t choose? Or is it conceivable that you might grow up, acknowledge your choice, and enjoy the cake?

I got so sick of these women. I have to say, this is one of the dreariest, most joyless books I have ever read. If the women and their husbands hadn’t been such obvious cartoons, I would say I would run for miles rather than spend any time with them; but since they never came to life, no worries. Wolitzer has an unpleasant habit of drawing pointless, ineffective metaphors (“‘Mason,’ she cried in a dry, fruitless voice.”), but she occasionally tells a marvelous story: the one I liked was when Roberta was doing a puppet show for some children, and one of them stands up and cries, “Oh, Mommy, when will it be over?” Not only is that a funny story, it perfectly expresses my feelings as I plowed through this novel.

Other reviews:

Linus’s Blanket
She Is Too Fond of Books
Everyday I Write the Book Blog
Booking Mama
Books on the Brain
drey’s library
Books Ahoy!
Small World Reads
A Reader’s Respite

Let me know if I missed yours!

43 thoughts on “Review: The Ten-Year Nap, Meg Wolitzer; or, My Mumsy enjoyed her chocolate cake (a guest review)

  1. i agree with Jill. I loved The Wife by Wolitzer so I really did look forward to reading this and it was a painful read to me. It also draws incredibly mixed responses some of which were basically of the you don’t understand b/c you’re not a mother type, so I am glad a mother thought that maybe the book was just a little off the mark.

    • I read your review and I really liked how your comment about the conceit of having each of the women represent a different aspect of the issue – perhaps that’s why they seemed so cartoonish to me – they are more category than character. And yes, you hit the nail on the head about how dismissive the book is of the complex work of raising sane and functional children. What seemed so absurd to me was the fact that none of them actually liked their former jobs very much – and yet, once they left them, it seemed that their entire self-worth was invested in having that job-flag to wave in front of everyone.

  2. Oh my gosh, I love your mom’s reviews! This book sounds absolutely terrible, and as a stay-at-home mom, I also take Meg Wolitzer’s description of my lifestyle as a nap as a huge insult. Do I think that there are some women that would find giving up their career to raise children a bore, well, yes. But to denigrate women who choose to do this, and then write a whole book about it frankly tick me off. Also the woman whose recital of the Fibonacci sequence seems to be her identifying character trait? How pompous! I would love to see more reviews by your mom!!

    • Thanks, zibilee! Actually, her fascination with the Fibonacci sequence was charmingly quirky compared to her other salient characteristic: she was kind of under the thumb of the parental units. BECAUSE SHE IS ASIAN, you know. *cringes*

  3. Ugh, this sounds exactly like the type of book and the sorts of characters that I will go out of my way to avoid.

    Also, I’m with Memory. Where’s my non-metaphorical cake? 🙂

  4. I love this, and it came on a good day for me. I chose the metaphorical chocolate cake and it derailed any chance of going back for the apple pie. I needed your Mumsy to tell me to just enjoy the cake today, at least what there is left of it.

  5. Hahaha, I think this review is a far better read than this novel sounds to be. Did you suggest this book to your mum, Jenny? If so, what led you to think she would enjoy it/not enjoy it?

    • Thanks, Sharry! This is not a book Jen would EVER have recommended to me…she has better taste! I read it because the title made my eyes bleed.

  6. Ha! I forget where else I heard about this book, but I remember thinking it sounded pretty annoying. This (totally excellent) review confirms that suspicion. I think part of my issue with this book, if I were to read it, would be the fact that a) I don’t have or want kids and don’t find art about parenting (or even just conversation about parenting) that interesting but b) I also don’t feel like my work life is what makes me fulfilled. (I mean, there are things I love about my job, and things I find really satisfying about my job, and I definitely love the place where I work … but if I were to magically become independently wealthy, I’m pretty sure I would not work full-time, and I’m pretty sure I could find plenty to occupy myself.) So the conflict of the plot, such as it is, probably wouldn’t hold my interest.

    • One thing I found quite annoying was how all the women seemed wholly dependent on other people’s opinions for their sense of self-worth. Here they are, all in their forties, and still completely outer-directed. Please tell me this is not a true portrait of American women.

  7. I might have cheated and used my Library Thing stalking skills to read this review a while ago, BUT I really enjoyed seeing it again here 😀 And now I really want some chocolate cake.

  8. My mom chose the chocolate cake, and she was such an incredible stay-at-home mom! I get REALLY angry when I see people devaluing stay-at-home parents, so I loved seeing Mumsy rip this book apart. Can we even talk about how demeaning the phrase ‘Mommy wars’ is? Ugh.

    • I know, right? But the conflict seems thrust upon us, whichever way we go: there is always someone who chose another path, but who just can’t help needling her opposite number. I liked the chocolate cake and never regretted it; and I’m guessing I would have enjoyed the pie, too – especially the money tucked inside.

    • Wolitzer might have eased my anger if the women had come alive for me – but honestly, I found the sort of nothing-happens-but-angst storyline awfully dull. I’m a big fan of PLOT, of course; spent too much time watching soap operas in my extreme youth.

  9. I love Mumsy’s reviews!

    I especially love this one because I can FEEL the anger!

    You know I have adorable baby nephews. From what I’ve seen of raising babies, the career part was my sister’s nap, not the other way around!

    I am tired of these boring angst filled modern women novels. I think it’s about time people stopped moaning about their lives and just enjoyed them!

    • When my oldest daughter was an infant, and I was walking around zombie-eyed, I heard a story about a professional football player who decided to spend a day doing everything his infant son did – crawling, scooting, pulling up, crashing into walls. He collapsed from exhaustion in a couple of hours – his ten-month-old was still going strong. This story made me happy beyond words.

    • Thanks, Emily! Jenny’s blog is my secret vice. And bless her heart: she introduced me to ALL of the wonderful book blogs out there!

  10. And yet I feel an overwhelming need to read this. I took nine years off work but have been back (THANKFULLY!!!) for a little longer than that. At first I took offense at the word nap as well, but it is sort of a philosophical nap… it’s almost right, but still offensive! I claim I took my retirement early.

  11. Great review, wonderful comments, delightful replies.
    When I read the “‘Mason,’ she cried in a dry, fruitless voice.” I had to wonder how it would sound in a wet fruitful voice. See where my mind goes?
    Anyway, I won’t be reading this book. Thank you. (now going to see if I do have it on my tbr wishlist so I can take it off.)

  12. “I read it because the title made my eyes bleed.” If that’s not the best reason for reading a book, I don’t know what is. Loved every moment of this review. Thanks for sparing the rest of us from having to endure the book ourselves.

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