In modern fiction, the stay-at-home mother is seen as a figure of fun. But, in her best novel to date, Meg Wolitzer treats us to a more nuanced account of female ambition and motherhood. The novel revolves around a group of New York mothers who, having abandoned careers as bankers, artists and academics, are slowly "waking up" to life beyond the school gate.
At their heart is Amy Lamb, a former lawyer whose own high-achieving mother keeps nagging her to return to work. Terrified of the new computer programme that has transformed her profession, Amy finds new excuses to stay at home. Restless and insecure, she becomes obsessed with another mother at her son's smart Manhattan prep school. Penny Ramsey, petite and blonde, appears to have everything – a financier husband, three children and a "proper" job running a city museum. She's also having an affair with a freckly curator from London. Enjoying her friend's romance second-hand, Amy can forget the demise of her own love life.
Writing with candour and humour, Wolitzer captures the neuroses of a rarefied mommy elite. Early in the novel there's a flashback to a 1970s event, at which a group of housewives, peering down a speculum, bear witness to a future where "everyone would work... everyone would help out at home". Thirty years on, and Wolitzer's "Post-Speculum" feminists are discovering what men already know. Most jobs are dull, but without work "How do you bear the rest of your life?"