In The Ten-Year Nap, novelist Meg Wolitzer delves into the fictional world of four friends, all highly educated working women, who "opt out" of the New York rat race in favour of full-time motherhood. What starts as a short-term gig stretches to a decade, leaving some of them wondering how to fill their 40s. Ms. Wolitzer, herself a mother of two kids aged 13 and 17, has been married for 19 years.
Professional women morphing into stay-at-home mothers is a hot topic. Those who stay at home argue that it's their choice. Others criticize them for dropping the feminist ball.
Everyone wants a life of purpose. It's not that I think there's a war between women who work and those who don't. I don't like the term "mommy wars." It's such a heated subject. The world doesn't make it easy for women. In most jobs, having a child is an inconvenience, or even if it's not inconvenient to take a few minutes off for labour and the release of the placenta, people have an anxiety about others getting ahead. In a corporate world that is generally true. Maybe I'm anti-corporate.
You suggest the desire to stay home is just as much about leaving a job as the children being mothered.
Most women do have to work - it's not about fulfilment. But many jobs are not the person's passion in life. Even though some of us are raised that we can be anything we want, that everyone will find their passion, I don't think that's true. That's what makes the concept of going back to work that much more complicated. If you tackle it in non-fiction, you're generally taking a position, a stand. ... It's a novelist's job to show what it's like.
It took four main characters to show what it's like.
My main character, Amy, is a corporate lawyer who stopped working after her child was born. I had met women who went to law school because they were verbal and smart and didn't want to be lawyers per se, but thought they could do well. A lot of those women did stop working or left law after having children. What if they don't have a passion? Is there shame in that?
Then there's Jill, who lives in the suburbs with her husband and their adopted daughter.
I do have a little fun with that. She won a prize in high school for promise. So many women I know were really precocious, really good at things early on. And what happens if you peak early?
Even Roberta, the artsy one, faces similar quandaries about staying at home with her son.
She's an artist who didn't make it, back in the '80s era of plates being thrown at canvases by big guys. And she felt humiliated being off in female-only galleries and being a second-class citizen in a sense. Maybe you have a passion but you don't make it.
Karen is a math whiz who is devoted to her twins and working husband.
Karen is unambivalent about her life. She is sort of unapologetic about her ability and her desire to stay home as long as she wants. That was me sort of talking to myself: Who is anyone to say how anyone else should live her life? I was more judgmental when I started writing the book. It was more satirical. I was using satirical writing as a way to deflect the complexities of the issue.
One of the characters describes marriage as a secret bargain between husbands and wives.
I also like the line, "Marriage is a long conversation," by another writer. Marriage is both a conversation and a bargain. There are tacit things people get from one another and they're not often stated openly. There are tradeoffs, absolutely. I have met men who married [women with]big careers, too ... they had a certain [Spencer]Tracy and [Katherine]Hepburn banter and if the wife leaves work, they are annoyed at the wife for not being as interesting. There's a painful reality in that.
For those with children, you portray the end of The Ten-Year Nap as sort of the end of a love affair with the child.
I wanted to mark that melancholy many women feel - I know I did. Powerful experiences feel permanent. That's what makes them powerful. When you are with young children and immersed in that world, it has the quality of any powerful and deep experience in that it feels like you're suspended in time. Then, suddenly, you're not. It can be a slap. The child betrays you by growing up.