I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother

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I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother

by Allison Pearson
Read by Emma Fielding

Random House Audio Publishing Group | October 1, 2002 | Audio Book (CD) |

4.3333 out of 5 rating. 6 Reviews
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For every woman trying to strike that impossible balance between work and home-and pretending that she has-and for every woman who has wanted to hurl the acquaintance who coos admiringly, "Honestly, I just don''t know how you do it," out a window, here''s a novel to make you cringe with recognition and laugh out loud. With fierce, unsentimental irony, Allison Pearson''s novel brilliantly dramatizes the dilemma of working motherhood at the start of the twenty-first century.

Meet Kate Reddy, hedge-fund manager and mother of two. She can juggle nine different currencies in five different time zones and get herself and two children washed and dressed and out of the house in half an hour. In Kate''s life, Everything Goes Perfectly as long as Everything Goes Perfectly. She lies to her own mother about how much time she spends with her kids; practices pelvic floor squeezes in the boardroom; applies tips from Toddler Taming to soothe her irascible boss; uses her cell phone in the office bathroom to procure a hamster for her daughter''s birthday ("Any working mother who says she doesn''t bribe her kids can add Liar to her résumé"); and cries into the laundry hamper when she misses her children''s bedtime.

In a novel that is at once uproariously funny and achingly sad, Allison Pearson captures the guilty secret lives of working women-the self-recrimination, the comic deceptions, the giddy exhaustion, the despair-as no other writer has. Kate Reddy''s conflict --How are we meant to pass our days? How are we to reconcile the two passions, work and motherhood, that divide our lives? --gets at the private absurdities of working motherhood as only a novel could: with humor, drama, and bracing wisdom.


From the Hardcover edition.

Format: Audio Book (CD)

Published: October 1, 2002

Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0739301721

ISBN - 13: 9780739301722

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– More About This Product –

I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother

by Allison Pearson
Read by Emma Fielding

Format: Audio Book (CD)

Published: October 1, 2002

Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0739301721

ISBN - 13: 9780739301722

Read from the Book

Home Monday, 1:37 a.m. How did I get here? Can someone please tell me that? Not in this kitchen, I mean in this life. It is the morning of the school carol concert and I am hitting mince pies. No, let us be quite clear about this, I am distressing mince pies, an altogether more demanding and subtle process. Discarding the Sainsbury luxury packaging, I winkle the pies out of their pleated foil cups, place them on a chopping board and bring down a rolling pin on their blameless floury faces. This is not as easy as it sounds, believe me. Hit the pies too hard and they drop a kind of fat-lady curtsy, skirts of pastry bulging out at the sides, and the fruit starts to ooze. But with a firm downward motion--imagine enough pressure to crush a small beetle--you can start a crumbly little landslide, giving the pastry a pleasing homemade appearance. And homemade is what I''m after here. Home is where the heart is. Home is where the good mother is, baking for her children. All this trouble because of a letter Emily brought back from school ten days ago, now stuck on the fridge with a Tinky Winky magnet, asking if "parents could please make a voluntary contribution of appropriate festive refreshments" for the Christmas party they always put on after the carols. The note is printed in berry red and at the bottom, next to Miss Empson''s signature, there is a snowman wearing a mortarboard and a shy grin. But do not be deceived by the strenuous tone of informality or the outbreak of
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From the Publisher

For every woman trying to strike that impossible balance between work and home-and pretending that she has-and for every woman who has wanted to hurl the acquaintance who coos admiringly, "Honestly, I just don''t know how you do it," out a window, here''s a novel to make you cringe with recognition and laugh out loud. With fierce, unsentimental irony, Allison Pearson''s novel brilliantly dramatizes the dilemma of working motherhood at the start of the twenty-first century.

Meet Kate Reddy, hedge-fund manager and mother of two. She can juggle nine different currencies in five different time zones and get herself and two children washed and dressed and out of the house in half an hour. In Kate''s life, Everything Goes Perfectly as long as Everything Goes Perfectly. She lies to her own mother about how much time she spends with her kids; practices pelvic floor squeezes in the boardroom; applies tips from Toddler Taming to soothe her irascible boss; uses her cell phone in the office bathroom to procure a hamster for her daughter''s birthday ("Any working mother who says she doesn''t bribe her kids can add Liar to her résumé"); and cries into the laundry hamper when she misses her children''s bedtime.

In a novel that is at once uproariously funny and achingly sad, Allison Pearson captures the guilty secret lives of working women-the self-recrimination, the comic deceptions, the giddy exhaustion, the despair-as no other writer has. Kate Reddy''s conflict --How are we meant to pass our days? How are we to reconcile the two passions, work and motherhood, that divide our lives? --gets at the private absurdities of working motherhood as only a novel could: with humor, drama, and bracing wisdom.


From the Hardcover edition.

From the Jacket

For every woman trying to strike that impossible balance between work and home-and pretending that she has-and for every woman who has wanted to hurl the acquaintance who coos admiringly, "Honestly, I just don''t know how you do it," out a window, here''s a novel to make you cringe with recognition and laugh out loud. With fierce, unsentimental irony, Allison Pearson''s novel brilliantly dramatizes the dilemma of working motherhood at the start of the twenty-first century.
Meet Kate Reddy, hedge-fund manager and mother of two. She can juggle nine different currencies in five different time zones and get herself and two children washed and dressed and out of the house in half an hour. In Kate''s life, Everything Goes Perfectly as long as Everything Goes Perfectly. She lies to her own mother about how much time she spends with her kids; practices pelvic floor squeezes in the boardroom; applies tips from Toddler Taming to soothe her irascible boss; uses her cell phone in the office bathroom to procure a hamster for her daughter''s birthday ("Any working mother who says she doesn''t bribe her kids can add Liar to her resume"); and cries into the laundry hamper when she misses her children''s bedtime.
In a novel that is at once uproariously funny and achingly sad, Allison Pearson captures the guilty secret lives of working women-the self-recrimination, the comic deceptions, the giddy exhaustion, the despair-as no other writer has. Kate Reddy''s conflict --How are we meant to pass our days? How are we to reconcile the two passions, work and motherhood, that divide our lives? --gets at the private absurdities of working motherhood as only a novel could: with humor, drama, and bracing wisdom.

"From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Allison Pearson, named Critic of the Year and Interviewer of the Year in the British Press Awards, is a weekly columnist in the London Evening Standard and a member of the BBC''s Newsnight Review panel. She lives in London with her husband, the New Yorker writer Anthony Lane, and their two children.


From the Hardcover edition.

Author Interviews

A Conversation with ALLISON PEARSON author of I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother Q: This is your first novel. What made you decide to write it? A: I read a Stress Survey in Good Housekeeping magazine two years ago. It said that all that most working women wanted for Mother’s Day was a bit of time to themselves. It also said they were too tired to have sex with their husbands and felt they were failing both at work and as a parent. I thought about my life and the lives of my friends with young children and I realized we were all being driven crazy by the pressure we were under juggling work and family. I thought it was a great subject - borderline farce, but full of incredibly poignant moments as you find yourself torn between responsibility to your children and the office. I wrote an article about working mothers in my opinion column in the London Evening Standard and I got literally hundreds of letters from women, all saying: That’s My Life! It felt as though I’d opened a small door onto a parallel world and on the other side was this huge amount of unacknowledged feeling. Then, I attended a discussion on work-life balance at the London Business School and the professional women in the room started to share their stories. One lawyer stood up and said she had intercepted a memo from a senior partner in her firm which said: “Why does childbirth have to take so long?” The room erupted and I heard this dark, b
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Editorial Reviews

“If you could buy stock in a book, I would stake all my savings on the success of Allison Pearson''s new novel, I Don''t Know How She Does It. Here, at last, is the definitive social comedy of working motherhood." –Marjorie Williams, Washinton Post “A sparkling novel about juggling marriage, kids, and job (and getting some sleep) . . . Nearly every female lucky enough to have both a child and a byline . . . has strip-mined Pearson''s theme: how to squeeze babies, marriage and a high-powered job into a day that cannot be stretched beyond 24 hours. But Pearson''s Kate, a brisk, sardonic, loving world beater, has made it all fresh again.” –Margaret Carlson, Time “. . . Heartbreaking . . . Anyone who has pumped breast milk in the back of a taxi, or wept quietly into the laundry hamper after arriving home too late for a good-night kiss, will recognize herself in this sharply observed, sometimes painfully sad story about the sordid disparity between the ideal and the reality of ''having it all.''” –Kate Betts, New York Times Book Review “What makes [Kate''s] tale such a hoot are the spot-on details that crowd her life and her brain–and will be familiar to any woman who''s ever tried to dress a squirming toddler while calling the office to explain why she''s late . . . Pearson has an effortlessly smart style . . . I don''t know a man on the planet who would get this book–or a woman who wouldn''t.” –Ca
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Bookclub Guide

For every woman trying to strike that impossible balance between work and home-and pretending that she has-and for every woman who has wanted to hurl the acquaintance who coos admiringly, "Honestly, I just don''t know how you do it," out a window, here''s a novel to make you cringe with recognition and laugh out loud. With fierce, unsentimental irony, Allison Pearson''s novel brilliantly dramatizes the dilemma of working motherhood at the start of the twenty-first century.

Meet Kate Reddy, hedge-fund manager and mother of two. She can juggle nine different currencies in five different time zones and get herself and two children washed and dressed and out of the house in half an hour. In Kate''s life, Everything Goes Perfectly as long as Everything Goes Perfectly. She lies to her own mother about how much time she spends with her kids; practices pelvic floor squeezes in the boardroom; applies tips from Toddler Taming to soothe her irascible boss; uses her cell phone in the office bathroom to procure a hamster for her daughter''s birthday ("Any working mother who says she doesn''t bribe her kids can add Liar to her résumé"); and cries into the laundry hamper when she misses her children''s bedtime.

In a novel that is at once uproariously funny and achingly sad, Allison Pearson captures the guilty secret lives of working women-the self-recrimination, the comic deceptions, the giddy exhaustion, the despair-as no other writer has. Kate Reddy''s conflict --How are we meant to pass our days? How are we to reconcile the two passions, work and motherhood, that divide our lives? --gets at the private absurdities of working motherhood as only a novel could: with humor, drama, and bracing wisdom.


From the Hardcover edition.

1. At 1:37 a.m. on an average night, Kate Reddy has just returned from a business trip to Sweden and is banging store-bought mince pies with a rolling pin so that they'll look homemade for her daughter's school Christmas party. She then goes out to the trash bins to hide the pie boxes so that Paula, her nanny, won't tell the other nannies that Kate cheated on the pies. She cleans up the kitchen and then takes a long time brushing her teeth so that her husband will fall asleep before she comes to bed (if they don't have sex, she can skip a shower in the morning and possibly have time for Christmas shopping on the way to work). How does this sequence, along with the "Must Remember" list that follows it, work to set the comic pacing for the novel [pp. 3-10]? How successful is the opening chapter in getting the reader to sympathize with Kate and her daily challenges?

2. When Kate arrives late for work, she needs to come up with what her friend Debra calls "a Man's Excuse" [p. 15]-something that does not have to do with sick children or an absent nanny, preferably something involving car repairs or traffic. Is Pearson accurate in describing a business world that has little patience for the out-of-office responsibilities of working mothers?

3. Kate has two good friends, Debra and Candy, with whom she exchanges comical e-mail messages. What do these messages convey about the ways women console, support, and entertain one another? What do they convey about the subculture of office life?

4. "There is an uneasy standoff between the two kinds of mother which sometimes makes it hard for us to talk to each other. I suspect that the nonworking mother looks at the working mother with envy and fear because she thinks that the working mum has got away with it, and the working mum looks back with fear and envy because she knows that she has not. In order to keep going in either role, you have to convince yourself that the alternative is bad" [p. 96]. How do Kate's vexed interactions with local "Mother Superiors" reflect the truth of this statement?

5. Pearson has said of her book, "It's a tragedy at the pace of comedy." What does she mean by this? Do you agree?

6. Musing on her relationship with her unreliable father, Kate thinks, "Daughters striving to be the son their father never had, daughters excelling at school to win the attention of a man who was always looking the other way, daughters like poor mad Antigone pursuing the elusive ghost of paternal love. So why do all us Daddy's Girls go and work in places so hostile to women? Because the only real comfort we get is from male approval" [153]. Is this an adequate explanation for Kate's ambition? How did her family's instability and poverty shape her psyche?

7. How is the romantic distraction posed by Jack Abelhammer important in further illuminating Kate's position? Is the outcome a forgone conclusion, or did she just make the right choice for herself?

8. "If you give Chris Bunce five million years he may realize that it's possible to work alongside women without needing to take their clothes off" [p. 298]. Is Pearson right in suggesting that many workplaces tolerate the sexism of some male workers? How satisfying is Kate and Momo's revenge upon Bunce?

9. Why has Pearson chosen to include the character of Jill Cooper-Clark, who dies of cancer at age forty-seven? Why is Jill's memo to her husband ("Your Family: How It Works!") so poignant? What has Jill's friendship meant to Kate? How does it shift the novel's comic events to a more serious context?

10. In an essay in a British newspaper, Pearson remarked, "Children may behave like liberals-they believe they should be allowed to do what they want-but what they really like, what makes them feel safe, is essentially conservative. . . . My ideals told me that men and women could both go out to work and be truly equal. My children told me something more complicated, something I really didn't want to hear. Their need for me was like the need for water or light: it had a devastating simplicity to it. It didn't fit any of the theories about what women were supposed to do with their lives, theories written in books often by women who never had children." How does this statement resonate with the experiences detailed in the novel? Is this a novel that is too close to reality for comfort because Pearson tells us things we know but don't want to acknowledge?

11. Which is a greater strain on Kate and Richard's marriage-the children, Kate's job, and her frequent travel, or her romantic interest in her American client? What does Pearson mean when she writes, "Any woman with a baby has already committed a kind of adultery" [p. 169]? How does the novel underscore the ways in which the arrival of children irrevocably changes the relationship between husband and wife?

12. A recent newspaper article noted that of Fortune magazine's fifty most powerful women, one-third have husbands who stay at home with the children. Would Kate's problems be solved if her husband left his failing architecture firm to become a stay-home father? Does the novel suggest that Kate needs to let him reassume the primary economic role if their marriage is to survive? Does Pearson suggest that people are still offended by the idea of a woman who makes more money than her husband? Why?

13. Some of the novel's funniest moments have to do with clothing, as when, in her haste, Kate has overlooked some detail of her dress. She gives a major presentation wearing a red bra under a sheer white blouse; she pulls on black tights in the train on the way to Jill's funeral without realizing that they have Playboy bunnies up the backs of the legs. How does Pearson use these moments to show how important details of dress are in the working world, and how much wrong things can go when women don't have butlers or wives to look after their clothing?

14. With their aggressive moral superiority, the women Kate calls "Mother Superiors" seem to believe they have made the right choice in staying home with their children. When Kate is tried at the imaginary "Court of Motherhood" (Chapters 6, 18, 40), why is she always on the defensive? Is this internalized "court of motherhood" something that plagues all mothers, not only those who work outside the home?

15. As Kate herself says, "Giving up work is like becoming a missing person. One of the domestic Disappeared. The post offices of Britain should be full of Wanted posters for women who lost themselves in their children and were never seen again." [p. 170]. Is Kate's decision to leave her job a disappointment or a relief?

16. The book ends with the question "What else?" at the end of another "Must Remember" list. Is Kate's life qualitatively better since she left her job and moved away from London? With the final page, does Pearson imply that Kate's life is essentially unchanged, or that it is about to take off in an exciting direction in which she will dictate the terms of her working life?

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