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Piece of Work – a book about family and work

This book was sent to me by the publisher for review.

Piece of Work is the newest novel by Laura Zigman – funny, heartwarming, and real. If you haven’t already read Animal Husbandry, Dating Big Bird, and Her, go do so now. Buy all 4 novels – they look wonderful together in a square! You can also check out Laura Zigman’s website for some clever and insightful writing, too. I realize it is no longer Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but it’s definitely worth checking out her moving and informative illustrated stories about her own experience with breast cancer.

If you’ve had it up to here with the “Mommy Wars”, your reading list should include Piece of Work – it’s a funny, biting, and heartfelt story about a family, finances, fun, and parenting. In a world where folks are either in the stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) camp, the work-outside-the-home (WOHM) camp, or the absolutely Politically Correct camp, there needs to be a story about how many moms really feel about the pull between work and family.

Piece of Work is a novel about a family, first and foremost. At the very beginning of the book, Julia is an at-home mom who loves being home with her son Leo. She adores spending time with him, and even when he’s being a tyrant (as 3 year olds are wont to do), she remembers her previous celebrity bosses as a publicist, and reminds herself that he’s the best boss she’s had. Julia is happy to be a SAHM, and is not feeling any longings for returning to work. Leo is a sweet, train-obsessed preschooler, who any mom can understand – heck, my scooter is blue, so it’s named Thomas. He isn’t played up as a brilliant child with perfect quips, he feels like a real 3 year old. Peter is the dad, working as a management consultant re-organizing companies, but like many dads not managing his home life. Everyone is happy with the status quo until Peter gets fired (or he’s the only person in the office to be laid off).<!–break–>

Five months into her husband’s unemployment, Julia has her credit card declined at The Container Store, and decides they must have income from somewhere. Her husband is either not succeeding in finding a job or not trying hard enough, but Julia can’t find it within herself to keep pestering him about how the job search is going (a difficult situation, and one I understand after having a husband unemployed for a year). So, with no income in 5 months, and none in the forseeable future, Julia returns to the world of Celebrity publicity. Of course, after 4 years out of the loop, she’s not quite as marketable, so she has taken a few steps down and is working with “has-beens” at a less prestigious PR company.

I have written about my issues with many novels in which stay-at-home moms who return to the workplace or become involved in something that is as time-consuming as a job. Most of them talk about how good they feel when they can be around other adults without talking about children, and how the new job fulfilled them in a way parenting never did. One wonderful exceptions is Julie Kenner, whose books are filled with children who are realistic, and whose mothers miss them when they are apart (2 books reviewed here). Piece of Work is amazing in this regard – I’ve never seen my feelings about needing to do outside work, and the feelings of many of my friends, expressed so eloquently. Actually, I’ve never seen these thoughts about transitioning to work outside the home ever expressed in a mainstream book. One wonderful quote that captures Julia’s feelings:

She knew a lot of women would disagree with her and she knew she wasn’t supposed to think this, but there wasn’t anything on her desk that was half as interesting to Julia as Leo was.

As Piece of Work continues, Julia finds her home is being incredibly well-run by her husband, who is even cooking elaborate dinners. Her heartache over returning to work is made even more difficult by her perception that her husband is better at being a SAHM than she was. When she has to travel, she is dealing with celebrities who are far fussier than little kids, plus they can be verbally abusive in ways children could never manage (er, unless we’re talking about middle school girls…). Even when she is alone in her room, she is thinking of her son, who they’ve nicknamed “Scooby Doo” or just “The Scoob”. Even as her anxiety over her relationship with her son becomes all-consuming, her relationship with her husband is also strained. The very real emotions tied into finding income for the family and managing the home are so well expressed.

Piece of Work shows a side of working mothers that is rarely shown in books. You usually see working moms who are comfortable about daycare/working, or occasionally have a few qualms that are quickly dismissed. In the “Mommy Wars”, mothers who work outside the home and mothers who stay at home are pitted against eachother. In real life, this is less accurate, as each person and family has different needs. There are rarely novels brave enough to show that no choice is perfect, and that sometimes you don’t have a choice, it’s made for you. I am exceedingly grateful that I was given the opportunity to read and review Piece of Work. I sniffled, I giggled, and I could relate. Many thanks to Laura Zigman for writing such a wonderful book. To the rest of you – go read it already!

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