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!

Room, Emma Donoghue (a guest review by Mumsy)

If you’ve reviewed Room lately, I’ve probably commented on your blog to say, You have reviewed this book well, but it sounds way too upsetting and I am never, ever, ever, ever going to read it myself. That is still (probably) true, so my mother has kindly agreed to guest-review it for me. Here is Mumsy!

(The review on the cover of my copy of Room says: “Potent, darkly beautiful, revelatory.” I have no idea what that even means.)

To Ma, Room is a twelve-by-twelve nightmare prison, the scene of repeated rapes and beatings since she was kidnapped at nineteen. To five-year-old Jack, though, Room is the cozy nest that Ma has created for him, where he cherishes Plant, eats dinner with Table, and often sleeps in Wardrobe – especially when Old Nick comes in at night. Room is a two-person universe – Jack suspects that even Old Nick is not properly real, though he is more real than the make-believe world Jack sees on TV. But Ma has secrets to reveal, and when she tells Jack that the world he sees on TV actually exists, events begin spinning out of control.

When I first saw a review of Room, I was a bit skeptical; I wondered how a five-year-old narrator could achieve either believability or emotional resonance. How foolish to wonder. Emma Donoghue brings Jack flawlessly to life; his quirky combination of high intelligence and childish innocence makes him the perfect narrator for a story that is, by turns, unbearably tragic and unbearably poignant. Jack notices tiny details, a trait that seems quite believable in a bright child whose world is extraordinarily small. His word-for-word reporting of Ma’s conversations with Nick, blunted by his five-year-old concreteness, lays bare the horror of their lives in a way that an adult narration could not possibly match. Donoghue just nails the inner life of a child. I loved the way Jack personifies so many of the objects around him:

There’s shoes that do on with scratchy stuff that sticks called Velcro. I like putting them open and shut like rrrrrppp rrrrpppp. It’s hard to walk though, they feel heavy like they’ll trip me up. I prefer to wear them when I’m on the bed, I wave my feet in the air and the shoes fight each other and make friends again.

Oh, Jack. I used to do that too.

So, beautifully drawn narrator, emotional nuance that will make you twist in your chair, rocket-fueled action, and (I know it’s a cliche) unforgettable characters. I read this in (almost) one sitting – it would have been one, except my husband, bleary-eyed, begged me to turn out the light because he had to get up at 5 am.  And, you know, if there’s one thing Room will remind you of, it is that authentic love sometimes demands sacrifice. I was glad mine was only to hold the last twenty pages til the morning…and to lie awake for hours thinking about Ma and Jack.