On bedrest during my most difficult (and final!) pregnancy last summer, a group of my girlfriends got together and sent me a care package of books, magazines, and activities for my two toddlers. One of the books was I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother.
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~&~ The Plot ~&~
Kate Reddy is a fund manager in London, and she is also the mother of two children. Her career is important, as she is one of the very few female fund managers, but she also wants to be the perfect mother.
The book opens with Kate returning from a trip overseas, only to "fake" homemade baked goods by swatting them with a rolling pin. Unable to let go of the "perfect" mother mentality, she tries to deal with the constant travel and crazy hours of her job while doing all the things she feels a mother should be doing, constantly feeling like she is failing at both.
Her husband, Richard, is an architect, and Kate feels that he isn't as ambitious as he could be. Many of the day-to-day family tasks fall to him, as well as to their nanny, who Kate alternately bribes and loathes. As if Kate's career vs. family battle wasn't enough stress, she also has a wastrel father who drinks too much and is always hitting her up for money for his latest scheme; an assistant who is after her job; a protege she is trying to relieve of her naivete; an arch-nemesis at work who is boorish and incompetent; and an American client that she just might be falling in love with.
As the story progresses, the stressors in Kate's life get worse and worse until things finally come to a head with everything, and Kate must make some decisions about her family, her marriage, and her career.
~&~ My Perspective ~&~
Believe it or not, before I quit working to stay home with my first child, I ate, breathe, and slept work. I thought nothing of working 80 hour weeks, or going into the office for full eight-hour days on the weekends. My feeble attempt to go back to work part-time after having my daughter gave me enough of a feeling of being the middle of a tug-of-war rope that I couldn't stand it, and I've always been amazed at moms who are able to keep it all together while working full-time and having a family.
Kate's job in I Don't Know How She Does It is extreme, and yet I know that there are a lot of mothers (and fathers) out there who have just such a job, always feeling pulled in more than one direction, and never feeling like you are giving 100% to either side. Her feelings for her client are totally believable, as she doesn't ever feel like she belongs anywhere in her life, and he offers her a convenient escape from reality.
Allison Pearson's writing style is very easy to read, making I Don't Know How She Does It a fast read, and probably a great beach book. It isn't Shakespeare, but has substance. Especially entertaining are Kate's email exchanges with two of her girlfriends, as well as with the American client.
~&~ What I Didn't Like ~&~
Nothing ruins a good book for me like a pat ending, and unfortunately, Allison Pearson ties up all her plots and subplots with a neat Hallmark bow. Even being a domestic goddess for four years now, I was still drawn into Kate's struggles, and found myself relating to her as a character. The ending of the book felt disjointed and out of place, with things tied up much more neatly than real-life. I Don't Know How She Does It was such a great example of how real parents are torn that the ending seemed traitorous.
~&~ Overall ~&~
I think that moms everywhere, both working moms and stay-at-home moms, can find something to relate to in Kate Reddy, and I Don't Know How She Does It is a great summer read.
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