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I Don’t Know How She Does It
ISBN: 0375713751

By Allison Pearson
Review by: Jen Lofquist

12/01/04

When I first read I Don’t Know How She Does It (hereafter I Don’t Know) I was four-months pregnant with my first child, knew I was going to be a working mom, and looking for insight, support, etc. Even as I reread sections now, with a six-month-old daughter, I couldn’t separate Jen-the-reader from Jen-the-mother. As this book is clearly marketed to the working mother audience, I allowed both Jens to have equal say.

I Don’t Know is at times extremely funny. I giggled through most of the book (though it seemed to be on a steep decline). I also found some touching moments—and a few moments I have since learned are truisms. The guilt of a being a working mother and the lack of support is very real, but the author stumbles in that she goes for humor at the expense of honesty. In the process, Allison Pearson creates unrealistic situations and characters so unsympathetic that if they walked past me on the street I would be hard pressed to choose which one to kick first.

Kate Reddy lives in a world completely devoid of support, which is unfortunately very true at times for the average working mother. However, she’s nuts. Not quirky nuts, but getting up in the middle of the night to crush pies to make them look homemade nuts. In the midst of humorous situations, you’re not quite sure she even likes her kids, much less loves them. Her torment is the need to appear as “Perfect Mom” to her friends, family and coworkers. She concentrates on the superficialities of parenthood (gifts, pies, etc.) while being annoyed at her children if she’s forced to spend any time with them. I suppose all parents have felt annoyance at their kids at one time or another, but Kate doesn’t seem to feel anything else—at least in their presence. Away from them she gushes about how much they mean to her. Her husband is a prat (my bow to the English heritage of this novel) well raised on the learned-incompetence that plagues husband/fathers in sitcoms and novels. Isn’t this stereotype just a little overdone? Not to mention insulting to those husband/fathers that are wonderful and participate fully in their children’s lives.

ATTENTION: This is a spoiler.

If my husband decided to leave me, while I was on a business trip, without calling, instead leaving the kids in the hands of our incompetent nanny, then was not reachable while my child is in the hospital, it would be a scene from the Sopranos. It would NOT be my wake-up call to quit my job and rededicate my life to my family and to him.

Spoiler over.

The other characters are two-dimensional and serve as the quick inserts into a humorous novel--the difficult mother-in-law, the perfect neighbor, the leech-like father (I kept picturing Eliza Doolittle’s father from My Fair Lady) and, as mentioned, the flighty nanny. We’ve met them before in numerous places, and they do the same things here as they do elsewhere. So it’s almost not worth the minimal time you spend with them.

The prose is sparkling and fun to read. Not to mention quick. I finished it in just over two days. The fast pace seems to mimic the harried life of a working mom. The plot can’t really be charted. As in other diary-type novels, there are massive numbers of subplots all surrounding Kate. The resolution though is about as contrived as they come. I have to say, I’ve hit my wall with all of this type of novels. Although I Don’t Know is better executed than most, the diary has been done to death. I blame Bridget Jones.

As much as the book was enjoyable (despite my criticism, I did enjoy it a good bit of the time), I can’t recommend this book. Mostly because, by the end, I was so angry with Kate and her cohorts, I threw I Don’t Know across a hotel room. In a world that criticizes working moms (as well as stay at home moms—we just can’t win), I didn’t need to hear that I couldn’t do it. That was the grand answer of this novel. No one knows how she does it—because she can’t. By the same token, neither can we. In the end, it's a humorous book with stereotypical characters and unrealistic plot twists, and if you don't look too deep (or taking the working mother thing too personally) you'll enjoy frittering away a couple days. And if you're a working mom, read in a room without any breakables.

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