I Don't Know How She Does It

The Brit Factor
New books dissected over email.
Oct. 23 2002 4:32 PM

I Don't Know How She Does It


Some questions for our reviewers: How intrinsically British is this novel, and could Pearson have written the same novel with Kate as a New York investment banker?

In the Washington Post, Marjorie Williams wrote approvingly about the book's British provenance, arguing that American women are too defensive to acknowledge the selfishness and compromise inherent in being a working mother. I have a different take: Yes, this book only could have come from Britain, but that's because it's a far more sexist place than the United States. No one would buy a description of, say, a Goldman Sachs mommy being tortured the way Kate was at her firm. Take the imbecilic co-worker who spikes the refrigerated breast milk with vodka: In the book, he gets away with a laff, but in the U.S., he would be fired or sued or arrested or all three. (Oddly, an identical anecdote shows up in Helen Simpson's similarly themed Getting a Life—did something to this effect really happen? Is it an urban legend being passed around London playgrounds? And did you like the Simpson book—more restrained, more devastating—better?)

Of course Kate quits her job; it would take a superhero-slash-saint to persevere in a workplace where no one clucks sympathetically over childhood colds or indulgently at desktop photo frames. This was a deliberate choice on Pearson's part, of course. As she recently explained, "I wanted a place where Human Resources has a policy for dealing with mothers similar to their one for dealing with cocaine users, except they believe there's a cure for the drug addicts." Next up from Pearson: a novel about the life of a mother who works for the Taliban.

But then again, don't you think this kind of exaggeration is necessary to make the novel as funny as it is? Say Pearson had set the book in San Francisco, or in the socially liberal, eight-weeks-of-vacation-a-year side of England instead of the rich, jolly-hockeysticks side. We might gain social commentary, but we'd lose the farce. And that's what this novel is: a big, sloppy farce, full of dramatic entrances and exits, and broad characters colliding with maximum force as the result of unlikely coincidences. And as such, it made me laugh harder than anything I'd read in months.


Karen Karbo is the author of Motherhood Made a Man Out of Me and a contributor to The Bitch in the House. Maria Russo is a senior editor at the New York Observer.


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

There Are New Abuse Allegations Against Adrian Peterson

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter


Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.