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
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
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" . 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
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
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
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?