Here’s an odd comparison: Elisabeth Egan’s A WINDOW OPENS is a mix of Virginia Woolf meets Mo Willems. If you know either of those authors, then you should read this book. If you know both of those authors, then you should read this book—now!
“You had to keep the picture at a wide angle—that was the trick. The devastation was in the details.” Alice Pearse represents every mom. While “sidestepping hula hoops, a pogo stick, and two soccer balls, one deflated” she vows to do better, be it by “feeding the parking meter” to the successful ability to “take wet laundry out of the machine before it mildews”. One minute she’s painting pottery at an expensive craft shop during the “summer of Rainbow Loom”, the next she’s yelling so loudly that the “tendons in my neck ached for days.” She’s every mom. She’s you.
This book starts with innocence. Alice, a small girl playing the “Book Lady” with her beloved, cherished father. Reflecting on those long-term memory bank moments (did you see the movie Inside Out?), Alice considers, “When you’re a kid, you think you’re going to have this deep well of time with your parents when you grow up and you’re all on equal footing.” Alice grows up, as we all do, to realize that our kidlike machinations don’t follow the devised pathways. Sometimes, we’re broken.
This book broods. One of Alice’s favorite quotes—there are many references to great authors—is of Virginia Woolf. It is poignantly applicable here, “The beauty of the world…has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.” Egan toys with my heart, showing the beauty of family, of everyday life. Things change. “It was time for Alice Pearse to step up to the plate.” With her husband not getting a promotion, throwing a computer across the room, Alice began thinking she didn’t have to be at home much anymore. She seeks fulltime employment.
The job looked so good, from afar. Any book lover can attest to the apparent attractions: public book lounges where “customers would be able to browse e-books on docked tablets and then download files directly to all their devices at once.” The “plan for the lounges included fair trade-certified coffee bars and eco-friendly furniture sourced from reclaimed local materials.” There would be “waitress service, foot massages, complimentary biscotti, cup holders with mini hot plates to keep your coffee warm…oh, and unlimited gummy bears.” Who doesn’t love gummy bears?
This book is much—much!!—more than about job transition. It’s much more than about parenting. This is a book for book lovers. The question is asked about the emergence of digital media, “A rising tide lifts all boats, right?” Surely this would be better than the “carbon-based books” approach, right? Or perhaps, it’s a testament to the insidious, sneaky creep of digital control. This is a land where we’re “expected to be reachable at three o’clock in the morning via e-mail, IM, text, or FaceTime.” And besides, these days, who doesn’t play a round (or hundred) of Candy Crush between pages of Kafka, when reading on their phones?
This book is fun! Though dealing with heavy matters, Elisabeth Egan writes with spunk, pizazz, and wit. She flourishes even the most tender moments with her touches of humor: “I missed the kindergarten ice cream social, the first day of school, the first PTA meeting, Cornelius’s bordetella vaccination, and Nicholas’s dinner with a promising new client.” Certain lines just catch you. Like this one did for me, “My chubbiest, chattiest toddler was now this lanky boy of few words, whose feet I could smell from across the room.”
Alice, near the end, reflects on this quote from Marky Baker Eddy: “Home is the dearest spot on earth, and should be the centre, not the boundary, of the affections.” And as I look back upon my time spent with A WINDOW OPENS and the life of Alice Pearse, I have this to say to Elisabeth Egan: you go, girl!
“If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave.” Mo Willems