Rundeep is super. Afflicted with an online writing addiction as bad as my own (but more diverse, incisive, and well-regarded), she seems to balance this with a successful and happy marriage, a high-visibility career, and, evidently, time to be a great parent as well. Either she's got it totally figured out (in which case she's my hero) or else she's brilliantly faking it (in which case she's my hero). Rundeep is hard to pin down as a book choice because she seems to have a smart angle on everything. So what could I do but find some fictional character that seems to manage it all? I don't know how she does it either, but I'd sure like to figure out something similar. I'm honored to include rundeep as one of the buds.
There's a certain prose style that's been working its way into the literature for the past 20 or 30 years, a certain brand of ironic hyperbole that compounds everyday observation with huge absurd metaphors, almost at the end of every sentence. Off the cuff, I'll guess that it started as soon as anyone saw fit to parody Raymond Chandler, but whatever the origin, it's worked itself into something of a standard form, identifiable a couple paragraphs in. I love it, and Allison Pearson wins big points for doing it well. She has a lot of fun with the verbal gymnastics, and the pace of the language is a good match for the frantic knot of the main character's mental state. Low on plot (but with an entertaining movie-script denoument), the book flies by as fast as Kate Reddy thinks. I'd have read it in a sitting if I'd had enough of a sitting.
I Don't Know How She Does It is told in the first person, in present tense, in roughly real time, a framing device that doesn't quite work. 8:17 AM: Am rushing to cab... Logistically, she can't possibly be dictating, but the book is too diary-like to be an internal monologue either. Even so, it's more than enough to get intimate with the Kate's internal thoughts. Her racing mind dwarfs the stimuli from her external life, and the contrast of her thoughts (stern at home, sweet and funny at work) to her actions (sweet at home and stern at work) are a great vehicle to reveal character. She's an easy woman to like, if only she'd calm down for ten minutes.
I'm not sure I identify with her though. I suppose I'm more like her husband--I've had a good upbringing that's robbed me of overambition--but I don't quite get that dude's dull entitlement either. (He's easy to write myself onto because Kate spends the novel ignoring him.) I had kids at the same chronological time as that fictional couple (though I am younger), and while in grad school, did some daddy-at-home time while my wife won bread. A man, especially a young one, was at best a novelty, but more often was beneath the notice of the local Muffia, and I really enjoyed Pearson's pokes at those overbearing ghouls. (Now my poor wife spends more time scratching her head over their bizarre commitments.) I couldn't get behind the noxious men who had a path paved to business success (if I were to encounter in the workplace the level of overt misogyny that Kate did, I'd be appalled), nor the women who were conflicted about their maternal instincts, even if I could (and still can) relate to the way that dual incomes run roughshod over family life.
The premise of this novel--a woman that tries to succeed as both a proper English mum (can I ever tell you how much English classisms bug me?) and a badass executive--is one that invites an exploration of gender roles, but none of the major or minor characters captured very well the complicated perspectives of the people even I know. Even with humor (and maybe especially with humor), this honesty is essential, and I think it's where Pearson lost the opportunity to write something powerful instead of something light and disposable. It would be difficult to resolve the setup without appearing to approve one side or other of Kate's dual drives, and when she starts extolling motherhood as a compulsion straight from the womb, you can hear the faint crackle of a message, and by the time she introduces and quickly martyrs the novel's only saint, it's screaming in your ear. The successful (balanced) women in the showcase are either wives, or else have assumed some bullshit girl-acceptable career. (To put it another way, I'd rather have any one of Kate's female friends managing my hypothetical funds than the douchebag men she worked with.) The men, the best and worst of them, are all overgrown boys that need a little mommying. She doesn't criticize the subtler chauvinism of Kate's "good" boss, nor that of her inappropriate romantic interest--they're just boys who have been failed by women. It's all so very comfortable with old traditions by the end, I found it disappointingly at odds with the way Pearson opened the story. For rundeep, I wish I came up with something that was balanced in substance as well.
Author: Allison Pearson
Title: I Don't Know How She Does It