The Ten-Year Nap
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For a group of four New York friends, the past decade has been defined largely by marriage and motherhood—but it wasn’t always that way. Growing up, Amy, Jill, Roberta, and Karen were told by their mothers that their generation would be different. “You girls will be able to do just about anything you want, ”Amy’s mother had predicted. And for a while, this was true. Amy and her friends went to good colleges and began careers as lawyers, film producers, bankers, and artists. But after they got married and had babies, they decided for a variety of reasons to stay home, temporarily, to raise them. Now, ten years later, at age forty, with their children older and no longer in need of their constant presence, and without professions through which to define themselves, the four friends wonder how they got here7mdash;in lives so different from the ones they were brought up to expect—and why they have chosen to stay so long.
As the women redefine their relationship to their children and husbands—and reevaluate their former selves—a lifetime’s worth of concerns opens up, both practical and existential, and questions begin to surface: Is simply being a mother enough? Does a lack of motivation for returning to work signal a weakness in character? Is it possible—or even desirable—to “have it all,” to be an attentive mother, a loving wife, and a successful professional? And if not, is the choice of motherhood over career a betrayal of the hard-fought victories of the women who came before? A carefully observed character study set in the context of the evolution of the feminist ideal over the last several decades, Meg Wolitzer’s The Ten-Year Nap uses the lives of these four friends to explore the breadth and complexity of women’s experiences in the post-feminist era.
When Amy embarks on a relationship with Penny Ramsey, a woman on the other side of the work divide who is an object of both envy and derision to Amy and her friends, the balance of the women’s lives is shifted, and the four women are forced to confront the choices and compromises they have made over the last ten years. As counterpoint, Wolitzer interweaves glimpses into the lives of a previous generation of women, the choices they made and the limitations they faced. Although for the four friends the possibilities may have expanded, each must still choose her own path, and through it, find the woman she has become.
Meg Wolitzer is a novelist and screenwriter. She is the author of This Is Your Life, which was made into the Nora Ephron film This Is My Life. She lives in New York City.
- Though much of the story is told from the perspective of Amy, her friends, and their families, at times the perspective widens to include all women. What is the purpose of this technique? What is the author trying to convey through its use?
- One of the main themes of the novel is the legacy of the feminist movement, with Amy’s mother representing the promise of its early years and Amy and her friends representing its practical result. What, overall, does the novel have to say about feminism? Is the idea of feminism still relevant in today’s society?
- Although Roberta initially seeks to help Brandy Gillop with her art career, she ultimately abandons her. How did this affect your assessment of Roberta’s character? Were you surprised? What is your overall assessment of her?
- Amy’s friendship with Penny begins when she learns of Penny’s affair with Ian, and ends when he is injured on Saint Doe’s. Discuss the relationship between Penny and Amy. Why does the affair create such an intense—though fleeting—bond between these women?
- While most of the “flashback” chapters deal with the parents of the novel’s main characters, a few focus on real historical and contemporary figures: Margaret Thatcher, Georgette Magritte, Nadia Comaneci. Why do you think the author included these chapters? How do these glimpses of their lives tie into the larger themes of the novel?
- Amy’s discovery of her Leo’s falsified “business expenses” causes her to question her belief in him and their marriage. Why does this discovery cause her so much distress? What does it say about her relationship with her husband and her expectations from life in general?
- Though she rarely speaks of it explicitly, the suicide of Jill’s mother has clearly cast a shadow over Jill’s entire life. Discuss Jill’s life story—her early promise as a student at Pouncey, the humiliation of her failed doctoral thesis, her struggles with raising Nadia—in the context of this early trauma. How does her mother’s fate shape Jill’s reactions to events in adulthood? Are there ways in which it has made her stronger?
- Unlike the rest of the book, which is told from the point of view of women, chapter fourteen is told from Amy’s father’s perspective. What is the significance of this chapter? What do you think the author is trying to convey through this character?