I Don’t Know How She Does It
The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother
By Allison Pearson
Alfred A. Knopf 2002
“Do I believe in equality between the sexes? I’m not sure. I did once, with all the passionate certainty of someone very young who knew absolutely everything and therefore nothing at all. It was a nice idea, equality – noble, indisputably fair. But how the hell was it supposed to work? They could give you good jobs and maternity leave, but until they programmed a man to notice you were out of toilet paper the project was doomed. Women carry the puzzle of family life in their heads, they just do.”
Kate Reddy finds herself in a rut. She feels like she is missing out on her children because of her job. She feels like she is being looked over at work because of her kids. She is exhausted and unable to keep up with the demands of her hedge-fund manager position while managing to get her daughter into the prestigious local school, find her son’s beloved stuffed animal, and fix that patch of carpet on the steps that is going to get someone killed.
It took me a while to get into this one and I had to check that it wasn’t my own feelings about the work/home divide that made me dislike Kate. In truth, I couldn’t figure out why she was doing the things that she was doing for at least a hundred pages. She doesn’t seem to particularly like her children – it takes a long time before we get genuine feelings of warmth as opposed to the stresses they bring to her life. On the other hand, she doesn't seem particularly passionate about the work she does. She is stressed, undervalued, and dealing with subtle sexism, but doesn't seem to enjoy or get any fulfillment from her job.
It isn't until halfway through the book that Kate seems to get some perspective or passion about both her family and her career. When the wife of a colleague passes away, Kate marvels at the time and love she put into her family. At the same time, she starts to work with a younger colleague at the firm – a woman who has bright idealism about her future in this business. Momo’s naivete inspires Kate to look seriously at why she works so hard and what a woman can accomplish in her field.
I don't mean to make it sound like a bad book. It's a good book, and not without insight. I found myself chuckling several times in understanding. But a more likeable character and the reduction of some subplots that just didn’t seem to fit would have made this a much better book. The difficulty mothers face in attempting to raise their children while advancing in their fields is an important issue and one that doesn't have easy answers. While I applaud Ms. Pearson for grappling with it, I think there are other novels with more compelling characters and greater insight.