Last year I read The Wife by Meg Wolitzer and absolutely loved it. I picked it up on impulse at the library. I had heard of Meg Wolitzer before, but I had never read any of her work. I was blown away by the humor and the insight that she brought to her portrayal of a fed up stay at home wife and mother on the brink of divorcing her famous author husband. All this on the eve of his acceptance of a prestigious literary award, no less. I mention this last novel here because it definitely played into my expectations, and it seems as if the Ten Year Nap is an expansion of the issues explored in The Wife, but with the next generation and encompassing multiple characters and points of view.
The women in The Ten Year Nap all worked before they had their children, and having had various degrees of success in their chosen careers, they all decide to stay home from work for a time after the birth of their children. Each planned on returning to work as soon as they reached some vague and indefinable moving target in their heads. That day never comes; ten years have passed and none of them have gone back to work.
Main characters, Amy Lamb and Jill Hamlin, are best friends and have known each other since college. They, along with slightly lesser characters Roberta Sokolov (a former artist turned puppeteer) and Karen Yip (a former mathematician who tries to turn all of her life situations into a math problem), meet over the years at a local diner after having dropped their kids off at school. They do this as much to have something to do as to keep up on the goings on in their lives—comparing experiences, children and husbands. Cracks are starting to appear amongst the friends when Amy becomes obsessed with super wealthy working mom Penny, and Jill (who has left the city for the suburbs) struggles with whether she loves the strange and troubled child whom she has adopted from a war torn Eastern European country.
As much as I thought it would be about the women sharing their experiences with each other, this was also a very internal book. The women spend a lot of time considering their choices and what has gotten them to their present state of ennui. While I won’t say that the characters are indistinguishable from each other, their level of dissatisfaction with their lot in life is, and it was hard for me to be interested in them for long because their state of mind was grating and essentially the same. My favorite between the choices before me was Karen. She is in a fulfilling marriage and takes time every now and again to interview for positions which she will never take simply because she enjoys the distraction.
As much as they pick over their worries in their heads and run errands, nothing really happens and I felt like the book got bogged down in inertia. The sections exploring their lives are interspersed with snippets of the dynamic lives of women of the previous generation (a lot of time the mothers of Amy, Jill, Roberta and Karen) which are in deep contrast with the lives of the four friends. While I understood the point was to draw attention and distinguish between the lives and choices of the two generations, it was also very distracting to have the profiles competing for attention with what was already going on in the story. Four characters with attendant children, husbands, and former careers were enough to keep me going.
After trailing interest for most of The Ten Year Nap, things started to pick up around the last hundred pages or so when the women started interacting with each other more and making decisions about their lives. Wolitzer’s writing is still smart and humorous but it all felt a little flat in this novel. I enjoyed those last pages more, but they came too late for them to turn this one around. All that being said, if you manage to read the whole book I think it would be a great discussion book for a book club. Or family member if you are like me and force people to read books with you.