There's an interesting quirk in human nature that sometimes prompts us to immerse ourselves in other people's lives and stories when there are things in our own we're not up to dealing with. That may be one of the reasons, recognized or not, that some of us become avid readers, but I know that I've had personal experience with it. It struck me that this is going on with Amy Lamb, one of the main characters in Meg Wolitzer's The Ten Year Nap, when she gets caught up in a new friendship with Penny Ramsey, whose son attends the same private New York City school that Amy's does, but whose life doesn't seem to have much in common with Amy's otherwise.
Amy and her closest friends have reached a stage in parenthood where their kids are old enough to start operating with some independence from their mothers, but having chosen to give up their careers to focus on their children, the mothers are starting to wonder what's next for them. Although none truly want to return to their former professions, they're thinking they should be doing something else. Amy's involvement with Penny provides both a focus for and diversion from these questions; Jill finds herself lonely and at loose ends after a move to the suburbs, and uncertain of her attachment to her adopted daughter; Roberta takes up causes; and Karen goes on frequent interviews for jobs she doesn't really want.
Wolitzer shifts back and forth among her characters' stories, although Amy's is the primary one, and this allows her to explore multiple perspectives; I think this is one of the strengths of the book. I also liked her inclusion of their backstories, exploring their upbringings and relationships with their own mothers. It seems that all of them were raised in homes that were strongly affected by the opportunities that opened up to women in the "second-wave" feminism of the 1960's and '70's, and that these mothers expected that their daughters would keep moving forward; Amy's mother Antonia, in particular, is frankly a bit puzzled by the lives of Amy and her friends, since they look a lot like what Antonia's generation wanted to change in the first place.
I also appreciated the fact that, with Amy and Roberta, Wolitzer incorporated the financial challenges of trying to maintain a middle-class lifestyle on one income in 21st-century America; I sometimes feel that this aspect of the choice to have one parent at home doesn't get quite enough discussion.
I really hope this book doesn't get dumped into the "mommy wars" pile and left there, because it deserves better. While Meg Wolitzer, a working writer for 25 years with a husband and two teenagers, admits to having been judgmental about stay-at-home mothers prior to writing The Ten Year Nap, I thought that the book was pretty well-balanced, thoughtful, and sympathetic. The employment of multiple character perspectives helps with that, since it's a built-in balancing device; at the same time, I think that there might have been more development of individual characters if there hadn't been quite so many of them. Having said that, I found all of the women's stories interesting and appreciated getting to know them, and I think that their issues and choices give them - and readers - plenty of things to think and talk about.