Reading this book was, for me, a little like reading Marilyn French’s The Woman’s Room, only backwards, from the other side, and with (slightly) more foaming at the mouth.
The basic premise is this (and I apologise in advance if I go off on one); Oliver (think David Cameron meets Charlotte’s first husband played by Kyle McCocklin on Sex in/on/and The City) is rich/white/middleaged. He lives with his three beautiful children, wife and immigrant housekeeper somewhere posh near New York, where he has An Important Job.
His wife, Sarah, is a callous, evil ‘independent woman’ type. As the book opens we see her struggling to write her precious novel, being distracted by thoughts of her family and home life. We learn that she was a bit of a hippy back in the day when her and Oliver first got together, but some some weird reason, *even though they have nothing in common, do not share the same values or hopes/dreams* they marry. Why? Oh that’s right, you guessed it, she loves him. She quickly becomes pregnant (this is the world of Danielle Steel where no other form of contraception can exist except the curious phrase ‘getting your tubes tide’, which makes me feel a little bit sick every time I read it). Even though she doesn’t want babies in her early twenties, wants to stay in New York and write and have her own life/career etc and is quite comfortable with the idea of having an abortion, he talks her out of it. And again two years later, and again. So now she has had three children she doesn’t want, having sacrificed her entire life for her husband’s career, thrown twenty years of her life away living The American Dream (just like Mira Ward) yet, when she gets into Harvard aged 41 and decides to, you know, have a life, she is the heartless, child abandoning home wrecker. Even though she, you know, isn’t. Oliver and Sarah’s breakup could be incredibly long an d drawn out with her leaving the family in stages in order to pursue a life of her own that she actual wants, but it isn’t, she just leaves them. She does not take any of her husband’s money (or present him for a bill for the last twenty years of cleaning, babysitting and cooking minus expenses the way Mira so amazingly does in TWR, but then again they do have the Immigrant Housekeeper). At no point does it cross Oliver’s mind to maybe move to Harvard with her, with the family, or maybe just trust her. Oh no, she is a home wrecker, plain and simple. How dare a mother (a mother) not consider making her ten year old sons pack up to be the most important time of her day? How righteously angry poor poor rich careerist Oliver is, having to “cope” with being a parent. Along with, you know, the Immigrant Housekeeper.
As you can probably tell this book made me incredibly angry. There were times I threw it across the room and wanted to stamp on it for the blatant apologist nature of the writing. Oliver forced a woman to have three children she does not want by guilting her into believing she is in love with him, then when he meets another (much younger, not that there is anything wrong with that, but you know, there lies the rub) woman who is prepared to stay with him, sacrificing her entire life and career she has spent literally years building up, so that he doesn’t feel uprooted (after moving the entire family, along with the Immigrant Housekeeper, who never really gets much of a say, across an entire continent in order to progress his career), he realises he has finally found the love of his life. This egotistical knob-end of a hero is not the only issue I had with the book, which from the blurb I was kind of looking forward to, oh no. The frankly ridiculous, snobbish and predictable subplots revolving his father re-marrying after the death of his mother (but that’s OK, cos she’s ‘respectable’) and his son becoming a teenage father to the town dropout (her parents were divorced because the mother took to drink, rather than because her mother discovered that cleaning a man’s piss off a bathroom floor everyday for twenty years for no payment whatsoever besides shelter, food and the occasional dicking resulting in yet another pregnancy you don’t want sucks ass) are both contradictory to the rest of the plot in the way the protagonists’ values chop and change throughout (so it’s not alright for you wife to get an abortion at 21, but it is for your son’s girlfriend at 18, because ‘it will ruin his life’? Oh come on!).
This book for me showed how misinterpreted the Women’s Liberation movement can be by some. It isn’t about women abandoning their children in order to be hippy bra burning feminazis, its about women (and men) having choices in the first place and being respected enough to make those choices without fear of failure, guilt, or social stigma. This book also made me angry because of the way it treats love, but this is nothing new these days. I am so incredibly fed up of seeing characters in films and books (and yes that’s right, I’m looking at you Scott Pilgrim) falling in love *for absolutely no reason whatsoever*. Sarah sounds great, she’s thinking, liberal and clever, and yet ends up with a boring, careerist, conservative, pro-Nam husband *because she loves him*. Just like Eva from We Need To Talk About Kevin, and Alice from American Wife, this books reinforced to me that it is in no way worth sacrificing everything you believe in because of a cold mixture of lust and self-doubt. Make a list and stick to it, and if you don’t meet anyone who matches the list, who wants you back, then what is the point? You’ll end up miserable, frustrated and lonely anyway!
Cheerful soul aren’t I? Anyway, on to the next one…