Is motherhood a blessing or a curse? Should it be considered a right or an obligation? And when it comes to the role of motherhood, has anything changed in the last 40 years, or are things still basically the same?
Elizabeth Buchnan seems to think that despite societal changes, women still must overcome the same basic challenges they faced in the 1950s, and she illustrates this beautifully in her latest work, Everything She Thought She Wanted. The narrative is in first person, alternating between the voices of Sienna and Barbara. Sienna lives in modern-day England, pursuing a glamorous, successful career as a fashion consultant. Barbara exists in 1959, and she is having an affair with a much younger man after spending her youth caring for her husband and children. While the two stories are quite different, they both center on the sacrifices women are asked to make for their family and the meaning of motherhood. By the end, we are led to a meaningful connection between these two women living very different lives, and a unified theme on the complexities of love emerges.
For instance, Sienna loves her career, but she also loves her husband Charlie, who has a strong desire for a family. Sienna is thirty-five years old and is content with her neat apartment and shiny lifestyle. She also has been offered a television show and book deal in addition to her weekly column and fashion consulting business, and she doubts she could make it all work with a child to look after. But when Charlie, who is a lawyer, defends a woman accused of killing her baby, they are both forced to take a hard look at the rewards and the price of motherhood.
Barbara is married to Ryder, a pilot who served in WWII. They have two grown children and a much beloved niece named Sophie. Barbara has made a life out of taking care of her family, but it is has begun to bother her that people donít ever ask her opinions at parties, or that her daughter and Sophie view her as having wasted herself. When Barbara meets Alexander, a young graduate student in psychology, she is immediately drawn to him, partly because he sees her as interesting and values her opinion. Soon she enters into a passionate affair with him that could destroy the life she has created for herself.
So how do the two stories relate? It would give too much of the book away to say, but there are some lovely parallels drawn throughout. For example, both characters love apples, find solace in the outdoors, and experience frustration at man-centric social occasions. But thatís just skimming the surface. Everything She Thought She Wanted is a novel with many layers. While at times the pace is a bit slow, especially compared to much of todayís popular womenís fiction, it is worth the time invested in it. It will leave you with more questions than answers, which is perhaps what a really good novel is supposed to do.