Alice Pearse, Elisabeth Egan’s main character in her first novel, A Window Opens, personifies professional working moms. At the start of the narrative, this mother of three enjoys a work/life balance that is the stuff of suburban dreams. When hubby Nicholas learns that his fast-track partner bid is permanently derailed, he pitches a temper tantrum unworthy of even their youngest child, Georgie. Suddenly, Alice’s perfect part-time job reviewing books for a woman’s magazine doesn’t measure up to the mounting bills.
Seemingly lucky to land a job with a lofty startup, Alice quickly transitions from spin class/coffee clache/ PTA minion/ capable Mom/ and part-time professional, to a work zombie enduring an 80minute (one-way), commute. She now spends the day deciphering the self-important acronyms at Scroll (theoretically aimed at revolutionizing the typical bookstore experience, but in actuality a spinoff of a soulless retail giant), dealing with a “befriend then berate” boss, falling behind on such parenting duties as getting kids clothes that actually fit her children, and resisting the urge to nag about the growing pile of beer bottles in the recycling bin. Add to the toxic mix an upset best friend (who owns the lovely local bookstore) and a terribly ill father.
Yes, Alice has descended from her lofty perch as a capable, loving wife and mom to a cautionary tale of a woman not quite up to speed at work, racing always to catch a later train, knowing her children through the eyes of a beloved babysitter, fighting with a husband who is so less-than-perfect at the moment, avoiding encounters with friends, and alternating between constant worry and denial about her father’s illness.
As a reader, this was where I became hooked. Leaning in so hard she is about to fall over, what part of her life will Alice sacrifice--her marriage? Or Jessie, the fun caretaker looking for a professional position for herself? Will Alice make changes to rein in this out-of-control “success” that threatens not only her closest relationships but also her
self-confidence, dignity, and future happiness?
This main character can be slightly off-kilter, a bit goofy from hanging out with the under-twelve set so much. She isn’t the most admirable wife, mother, daughter or best friend--but
she is real, and ultimately lovable, if not so on every page. I feel as though
I’ve been Alice at times, as have been so many working parents, particularly
moms. Her work dilemma is fairly common: initial excitement over joining a progressive company only to see it devolve into an office culture that commandeers the life of its workers purely for profit. The type of job that leaves most professionals unfulfilled, disappointed, and consuming too many carbs.
Egan, herself a book editor for Glamour, clearly knows books that evoke a certain lifestyle and has been paying attention to recent debates about women pushing their way forward in the workplace. Describing an editorial event in A Window Opens, she writes:
...the cozy upstairs room was already abuzz with intelligent-looking people who looked like they’ve been born in a John Cheever story, educated in a Donna Tartt novel, and now lived the full Jonathan Safran Foer life...
Lucky for readers, Egan is a wordsmith able to evoke smiles and nods:
Easy, enjoyable to read, A Window Opens leaves readers with hope that, while women may not be able to have it all at the same time, creativity and prioritizing can at least help us rebalance, striving toward what is most important in our lives at any given time.
- She might be your best friend in the elevator, but you never knew when she might mount her bully pulpit of virtual communication.
- ...the simple syrup of rage.
- I forced my memory to zoom out, like the long lens of a camera. You had to keep the picture at a wide angle--that was the trick. The devastation was in the details.
And so you rearrange your life around what you glimpsed through a little window that opened for one second to show you a glimpse of something you might never get to see again. Even so, you know you will never forget the view.