“Motherhood was the equivalent of love at first sight. Sometimes you just know. And you rearrange your whole life around what you glimpsed through a little window that opened for one second to show you a glimpse of something you might never see again. Even so, you know you will never forget the view.”
At first glance, A Window Opens, appeared to be a chick-lit novel about the all too familiar topic of a working mother trying to establish a balanced life — one where she maintains her fitness, her marriage, her relationship to her extended family, her role as nurturer, her role as breadwinner, and her sanity. I will be the first to say that chick-lit does have a place in any reader’s lexicon — just like romance novels or bloody murder mysteries — but it is not a genre that often speaks to me. However, the further on I read, the clearer it became that Egan’s story had real teeth, and she was able to give funny, sharp assessments about the myth of having it all.
At the start of we meet Alice Pearse while she is a busy mother of three living in New Jersey, working part-time as a (slightly glamorous) books editor for a women’s magazine in Manhattan: she enjoys the smug satisfaction of being both an involved suburban mom and a New York City writer. When her husband leaves a high-paying legal job in the city to open his own firm, Alice’s entire life is forced to change.
Alice finds herself at a job at a super-modern, high-tech corporation (the interviews scenes are very funny: showing low-tech and out of touch Alice, winning the hearts of a room of twenty-something hipsters) that will require not only an entirely new set of work skills, but also demand much more than any position she has held since becoming a mother.
After just a short time on the job, Alice sees the wizard behind the curtain: the company’s commitment to supporting local business and its workers in search of work-life balance is a fraud. It is, in fact, just like all of the other huge corporations it seeks to distance itself from and is reveled as out only to make as much money as possible. Egan’s descriptions of the company, rather than being angry are hilarious; shining a light on it’s faux attempts to create utopian workplace. Soon the company demands too much from Alice — too much time in the office, too many meetings, too little flexibility — and she is forced to choose between a job that is crushing her spirit and making her a stranger to her children and financial security.
I found Egan’s book to be funny and relatable both in my role as a mother — as I have been a working mom and a stay-at-home mom — and as a slightly old-fashioned woman in a high-tech world. I laughed at loud at her seemingly off-hand but sharp observations about being a busy working mother — I love her quip about how on her first solo business trip “it was dizzying to walk through the airport terminal without a stroller” — and I was deeply touched by her heartbreaking descriptions of grief, which she describes as struggle to not fall “into the Grand Canyon of heartbreak.” My biggest complaint would be that the final chapters tend to wrap up the problems in the story in an overly tidy package, where financial troubles, marital strife, and career options are all magically solved. Given her effort to make the rest of the book true-to-life, this fairy tale ending does not exactly ring true…even though it does leave me feeling very happy.
Work-life balance is a topic that has been close to my heart since my earliest days as a working mother. Here are links to two previous blog posts of mine dealing with the issue of time management: http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1I and http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1K
“I’d internalized the message [from the] women’s center in college. Yes, it is possible to do anything, be everything. But maybe if I had not dozed through physics, I would have been a little more up to speed on the limitations of time. You cannot create more of it. You can sleep less, plan more, double book, set the alarm for 5:30am spin class, order winter coats for your kids while you’re on a conference call, check work email while your family eats breakfast — but ultimately there are only so many hours in one day and you have to spend some of them in bed.”