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Book Review of I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother

I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother
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Allison Pearson's _I Don't Know How She Does It_ may (literally!) nearly scream from the cover that it's "chick lit" - against a slightly salmon pink background, a silhouette of a slender woman, her even her shadow outline clearly dressed in the ski-high pumps and suit-of-armor designer suit of the successful businesswoman of today, juggling silhouettes of a child's beloved toy, a pacifier, and of course, and overloaded briefcase - or maybe she's not juggling. Maybe she's finally, once and for all, tossing all of this up in the air for good. For all it's "chick lit" trappings, this novel, supported throughout by Pearson's finely wrought writing style suited to both wry comedy and genuinely affecting pathos (often within the same character's breath), explores issues that can't *just* be passed off as "chick lit" - it's a true gift to be able to deal with the real, serious, frequently life-changing ways in which gender affects all aspects of a certain class of educated, talented, career-tracked women.

Pearson manages to address the role of a woman in perhaps the least female-friendly career field possible, international stock and bond fund management (casual but somtimes brutal vulgarity and sexual harassment women fund analysts must bear with a tolerant smile; "the Mommy Track" that sends women seeking more time with their children down a dead-end of career advancement; and, perhaps worst of all for Kate, the endless last-minute business trips to clients from New York to Tokyo that she's expected to jet off on hours' notice, routinely missing key events in her two small children's lives. Although Kate's guilt is leavened by the gallows sense of humor that sustains her and her small cadre of working female friends, she is constantly gnawed at by the fear that 5-year-old Emily and 12-month Ben know and love the nanny better than their own mother, and that the stress and irritability that are a constant in Kate's life are taking their toll on her relationship with husband Richard.

For so many women, especially those who careers keep them in urban areas where the cost of living, not to mention a decent education, for one's children is gougingly high, _I Don't Know How She Does It_ may ring painfully true. Trying to keep her successful career to avoid the trauma that will surely come with abandoning her incredibly gift for economics and finance, Kate is nonetheless continually browbeaten and made to second-guess herself by the neverending and always conflicting demands of family life in a posh, closed London community that expects all mothers to stay home and bake from scratch for every school function. The open scening, in which Kate, freshly flown in from yet another international business foray at 2 in the morning, takes a vicious rolling pin to the crusts of store-bought mince pies in order to "distress" them adequately to pass as homemade and let her off as a "good mother" at her doctor's school is uproarious, but it also captures with jewel-like clarity the intense conflict, guilt, and shame Kate faces in a society that so recently encouraged women that they could "have it all." Kate is an enormously sympathetic character, and women on both sides of the work-home divide - and everywhere in between!!! - will understand her frustration, pain, and, above all, her ferocious and sustaining sense of humor.

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