Review of “A Window Opens,” By: Elisabeth Egan

Simon Schuster/Barnes & Nobles/ Kobo/Indiebound/Books-A-Million

Book Synopsis (Taken from Simon and Schuster Product Detail Page)

Fans of I Don’t Know How She Does It and Where’d You Go, Bernadette will cheer at this “fresh, funny take on the age-old struggle to have it all” (People) about what happens when a wife and mother of three leaps at the chance to fulfill her professional destiny—only to learn every opportunity comes at a price.

In A Window Opens, beloved books editor at Glamour magazine Elisabeth Egan brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age. Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach.

Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up and her work takes an unexpected turn. Readers will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she―Alice Pearse―really want? – See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/A-Window-Opens/Elisabeth-Egan/9781501105432#sthash.4aRu1rHM.dpuf

Review:

In lieu of the recent controversy as to the questionable nature of Amazon’s employment practices,  the main premise behind Elisabeth Egan’s funny, sometimes irreverent, though poignant new novel A Window Opens seems strangely timely, as it concerns a mother of three working for a company that demands such an obscene number of things for her during a normal work-week, making it nigh impossible for her to balance both  her family and professional life in a satisfying, healthy way. Essentially,this book deals with a myriad number of various issues, all while telling a very familiar story of one working mother’s struggle to strike the difficult balance between the life of being a dutiful mother and hard-working, adept employee for a monopolistic online store company in the story that is trying to develop hybrid book-stores that are a fusion of Starbucks and Barnes & Nobles without the book shelves. These are the most salient parts of this story, for the overriding purpose behind this key narrative is to subtly critique the overreach and monopolistic propensity of Amazon’s business practices, along with the rather impersonal nature of the way they treat their employees. Given that this book was probably written long before the New York Time’s blistering article on Amazon’s employment practices, it almost unwittingly serves to add credence to many of the accounts within that story, as Elisabeth Egan is allegedly writing from what she knows and experienced when working for Amazon Publishing. Of course, many elements of her story are purely fictitious, including the main character’s dilemmas, and the other side plots that are included within this story, some of which are not as fascinating as other plots.

Yet the core of the story, the thing that really tugs at our heartstrings, and is written with an expert balance between moments of levity/raw emotion is the core plot, surrounding the main character Alice Pearse and her dogged determination to be hired for a full-time job, after her husband loses his lawyer job. I almost immediately sympathized with Alice’s character, between her wry,level-headed observations about different things she encounters in her daily life, along with her almost idiosyncratic love and appreciation for books. Anyone that is an inveterate bookworm can identify the pathos that Alice has for stories of all shapes and sizes, along with her deep love/respect for the indie bookstore,owned by a friend of hers, that is located in close vicinity to their own home.

Upon taking the job at the monopolistic book company Scroll, her whole life radically changes to where everything about it is almost excessively consumed with attaining perfection within the professional life. The focus of her life thus becomes myopically fixated upon her job, and the family being the center of her emotional attention now takes secondary place. Now before you assume that this story uses this plot-line to thus imply that these are the grave consequences for women that try to be both successful at their jobs and also be an excellent, responsible parent in similitude would be sorely mistaken. Elisabeth Esther is actually using this plot-line to illustrate the real hardships that women that are raising families face within the professional realm these days. Moreover, Alice’s husband is also given solid development, which shows that no one should have the onerous responsibility of being a complete caretaker, while neglecting the other duty entirely. When your marriage has a more egalitarian structure to it, it tends to provide both spouses (regardless of gender) the potential really live deeper, more fulfilling lives apart from societal  strictures and roles. When a woman takes up a career, society almost seeks to punish them in a sense, especially when employers will curtail things like maternity, or abolish it altogether, as if to vengefully make a point that woman that take a full-time career should then have to face the bitter repercussions of their counter-cultural disposition. Again, the character of Alice is never judged through any cheap contrivances that in some stories serve the role of punishing a mother that decided to neglect her duty of being a parent, in hopes of attaining a career. In reality, this story portrays Alice as fierce, courageous, and compassionate. Her character is so endearing and wonderful; she has flaws many of us have. She’s very realistic, and I think she’ll again appeal to all those who are book-lovers at heart.

   A Window Opens has a much more nuanced, well-shaped story-line that transcends any preconceived notions you’d otherwise have about stories like this. Most important, the commentary about Amazon’s monopolistic power and shortcomings when it comes to their rather harsh/demeaning method of dealing with their employees is extremely pertinent. When you’re in the midst of reading a very humorous story with heartrending emotional travails of one woman’s increasingly busy lifestyle, you also are given some rather sobering truths about the nature of the rapid progression of the Amazon machine. You begin to wonder whether Amazon’s hegemonic hold over the book market is starting to leech the wonder and social potential of reading.  And all of this again is coupled with an even more important story about one woman almost feeling isolated from her “home,” because the professional world basically supplants her home life. When she sees her own kids, she feels detached, as if she is seeing them apart from what she recalls during earlier moments of their lives, when she had a much closer bond.

There is a very neat contrast, in the way which the wife’s over-consuming professional life is meant to almost be a clever gender reversal, for the author, in order to switch the stereotypical roles by having her husband be mostly at home, working on opening his own law firm and taking care of the kids when their hired help isn’t. At one point, the husband sinks away into the subconscious of the house itself, and I won’t comment further, but the Robert Frost/Edgar Allen Poe esque symbolism here that played an important feature in constructing the subconscious as a palpable feature in literature is a very interesting one. As the wife’s heart and emotions become more estranged from the home, her husband seems almost to sink into the very house itself. This rich, subtle use of complex imagery really is a commendable feature for this story. It really adds levels of depth, where you wouldn’t expect to find them. It makes certain sections seem to really glisten with meaning.

Sometimes, moments of overwriting trips this up (and I’ll mention this down below), the story gets bogged down in almost too many different strands that don’t always quite come together right. There almost too many things at play, to the point where it feels a little aimless in terms of plot direction just at a few intervals. Sometimes, I wanted a little more insight in some areas as to just how others within Scroll, for example, truly function beyond their assigned professional role. But since this story’s focus is squarely on Alice, and the onerous nature of the job/versus her declining role in her family life, it does make sense that not everything would be quite as developed to an extent I thought it might be.

Returning back to the subtlety of the story’s deeper elements at play, A Window Open subtly alludes to these issues and more without any digressive moments of tedious diatribes, relaying the same thoughts readers will form about these things within the larger scheme of a story about one woman’s struggle to hold her whole complex, frenetic-paced life together. A lot of the thoughts above are just things the book prompts people to question, but does not necessarily imply; that shows a true mastery of language on Elisabeth Egan’s side, as it’s hard to carry deep messages that can tackled with by people in a variety of ways.

As mentioned previously, there were some things I was not too sure worked quite well with the story. One of those things had to do with some subplots that didn’t cohere well with larger subplots, thematically-speaking. And sometimes the writing was not always completely absorbing, sometimes it got caught up in long-winded points that just didn’t translate very well to writing that proves to have a clear rhythm and purpose. Yet I think the stronger elements of the story very much outshine those things, including the very engrossing core story, the subtly-detailed criticisms about Amazon, along with the very clever, wry humor that provides needed moments of levity during more difficult patches of a story that really packs quite a number of fairly interesting subplots, along with a story that I think both men and women can both equally enjoy, and derive some insight from.  I definitely look forward to reading more from Elisabeth Egan in the future.Elisabeth Egan’s A Window Opens is that uncanny type of novel that is funny, clever, and also humbling, sobering, and heartrending, sometimes all on the same page. I love reading about the unique challenges that working parents face these days; it’s just such an interesting facet to this story that I think is done tremendously well in a humorous, entertaining fashion. Someday, I’ll be sure to revisit this story once more, as it is indeed one of my bigger favorites of the year.

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