The Book Itself: Graphic and Inception-y = awesome! A book about a woman involved in books.
My Review: In “A Window Opens,” beloved books editor at “Glamour” magazine Elisabeth Egan brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age. Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in–and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach.
Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up and her work takes an unexpected turn. Readers will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she―Alice Pearse―really want?
I am disappointed with that synopsis.
You know why? It makes the story sound flippant, the characters sassy but flat. Whereas I found the characters, for the most part, to be complex, flawed (in a good way), and nice to spend time with. I think the book deserves a better blurb.
It makes this sound like chick lit to the max, with a healthy dose of glamorous magazine world thrown in (the author was, after all, a writer for Glamour – it’s a magazine I happen to love, but I didn’t want a book obsessed with that). I found it to be much more about finding oneself in a job…and maybe not liking what you see. It was about dealing with a sick parent…amongst life in all of its busy, stressful glory. It was about trying to be there for your kids…and your husband, and your parents, and yourself. I liked the layers at work here, and found that even if Alice complained a lot and made a lot of questionable decisions, I liked reading about her coming to realizations and balancing everything.
The book certainly triggered an emotional reaction in me as well. No one wants to think about a parent getting sick, let alone getting seriously, life-threateningly sick. And for Alice, this is the cherry on the top of a husband who has lost his job and is trying to strike out on his own, three kids who are growing up with less and less of their mother, a best friend who hates where Alice has chosen to work and considers it a personal insult, and a new job that is proving much more challenging, and different than what she signed up for. All of these things make you feel bad for Alice, but the way her father’s illness is handled in the book is deft and, in a way, lovely. It affects the tone of everything else in a way that it should.
All this is not to say that there aren’t some cloying aspects to the story. It product-name drops. Alice sometimes picks up her Baggalini bag and chooses between her Tommy Hilfiger minidress or the Herve Leger wrap dress (these aren’t actually the brands used within the narrative, but you get the idea). It might add a touch of modernism, but I don’t want to have to look up the exact bag Alice is rooting through, or the dress she keeps smoothing over her legs when she sits. Maybe the core audience knows all of those brands right off the bat, but I just found it to detract from the story as I read.
And Alice herself can get cloying. She clearly has an awful boss, and you want to shake her every time she flip-flops about liking her as a person. She sometimes treats her husband (a rather flat character, even though he’s a key factor in everything that’s going on. I wish he got more story time) like total crap, and the same goes with her parents and brother. But she’s your main character, and you want to root for her. Eventually she sees the error of her ways.
So this book isn’t as fluffy as that synopsis and the recommendations in the magazines would have you believe. There’s a real emotional root and backbone to Alice’s character arc. I liked it, and you will too – just ignore the blurb.
My Grade: B