Ms. Egan’s debut novel holds promise for a new wave of fiction, published to address the question of “Can Women Have it All?,” in a way that is unexpected, optimistic, and approachable.
Alice Pearse lives in New Jersey, in a picturesque suburb of New Jersey, with her husband, three children, and one dog. When a troubling incident (involving a thrown laptop across a conference room) prompts her husband to end his full time job at a successful law firm, she is forced to reconsider her part time job as a book reviewer for a plush women’s magazine, and look for full time opportunities elsewhere. She is swept away by Scroll, a new bookstore hoping to model a new chain of digital lounges to become the bookstore answer to Starbucks.
Alice is all at once carried away by the promise of this new model of book-selling, while trying to balance her responsibilities with her family and friends. She has to navigate her ideological conflicts (support mainstream bookstores vs. independents, read paper vs. read digital), all while trying to learn the new language at work (everything is abbreviated).
One of the strongest and, for me, most relatable conflicts is the never-ending pressure to stay connected to your phone (and, by default, your work life). We know that this kind of constant connection is unhealthy, but in certain work environments, trying to revolt against leaving “work at work” is look down upon more than tardiness or poor hygiene. This is a modern issue, with modern technology, for a modern protagonist.
Egan does a great job covering the child-as-caregiver experience, as Alice witnesses her father’s struggle with throat cancer. A complicated life is more than just balancing playdates and long commutes. For all of history, women have had to balance everyday demands, with chronic conflicts and stressors. Some days you’re putting out fires with a spray bottle, sometimes with an extra large hose. Fiction badly needs a dose of hose-worthy fires.
I did, however, take issue with some of Egan’s loose ends. There were a few spots in the novel where conflict arose, but was never resolved. This model can work very well in a mystery, adding to suspense and throwing in a few red herrings. It doesn’t really work in fiction, though, unless you have an alternative resolution or ironic twist. Tying up these loose ends would have made for either a longer book (if these conflict points were resolved) or a shorter book (if she had scrapped these mini-plot points altogether). Either option would’ve made a more satisfying read.
Alice’s goal for “having it all” looked very different from what my “having it all” would look like. That being said, I would still recommend this book to read.
Rating: 3/5 stars
- How Egan’s working at Amazon is mirrored in the novel (NYTimes link here)
- Anne Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article, entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” (she just came out with a new book!)
- The Oral Cancer Foundation website
I was provided an advanced reader’s copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. The edition reviewed here was an e-book.