Book of the week

Taranaki Daily News - - Weekend Leisure -

How Hard Can It Be? Al­li­son Pear­son (HarperCollins) $35 Fif­teen years af­ter her 2002 de­but, the be­lea­guered Kate Reddy’s chil­dren are now dif­fi­cult teenagers, her mother-in-law has de­men­tia, her high-pay­ing job in the City has given way to house­wifery, her hor­mones have de­parted to menopause (while her teenage daugh­ter’s are run­ning amok) and her hus­band is hav­ing a ly­cra-clad midlife cri­sis on an ex­pen­sive bi­cy­cle.

Those of us women who iden­ti­fied with Al­li­son Pear­son’s first novel of tod­dler tantrums and multi-task­ing while hold­ing down a de­mand­ing job will surely iden­tify with Kate again as, older but just as fraz­zled, she joins the Sand­wich Gen­er­a­tion – sand­wiched be­tween the de­mands of teenagers, frail par­ents and a ca­reer.

As I am a good 10 years older than Pear­son/Reddy, I found my­self look­ing back – not just on my own sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences but also on the nov­els I wrote a few years ago about a very sim­i­lar woman, sim­i­larly sand­wiched.

They sold well and struck a chord, but How Hard Can It Be? will sell mil­lions, judg­ing by the pop­u­lar­ity of Pear­son’s first novel and the equally high stan­dards of this one.

The mes­sage is all in this so­cial com­edy. The plot is a bit thin and a tad pre­dictable, but it rol­licks along nev­er­the­less as we iden­tify with the ap­peal­ingly vul­ner­a­ble pro­tag­o­nist. Kate has to go back to work in the City to pay for the ‘‘Money Pit’’ cre­ated by seem­ingly end­less ren­o­va­tions to their crum­bling home and to make up for her hus­band Rich’s de­ci­sion to spend two years re­train­ing as a coun­sel­lor while ac­quir­ing in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive bikes.

But her first job in­ter­view, at which she ad­mits she is 49, goes so badly she de­cides to ad­mit only to 42, and em­barks on crash di­ets, li­po­suc­tion and other im­age-en­hanc­ing tricks. Mean­while her daugh­ter Emily has sent a ’’belfie’’ (a selfie of her bare bot­tom) to a friend who, of course, sends it round the whole school and be­yond; her son Ben is per­ma­nently at­tached to a screen while seem­ingly los­ing the power of speech; her mother wants to dis­cuss the colour of her car­pet for hours on end; her in-laws badly need home care; and Rich’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion leaves the door open for the reap­pear­ance of a long-lost love.

It’s al­ways hard to strike a bal­ance be­tween over­do­ing the angst that goes with be­ing pulled in so many di­rec­tions and keep­ing the reader en­gaged and en­ter­tained, but Pear­son does it well. She is such a good writer. There is a lot of angst, but she paces it with witty one-lin­ers, wise ob­ser­va­tions, and phrases you’d like to cut out and keep. Like the teenage be­lief that ‘‘a mother’s place is in the wrong’’.

There are plenty of ‘‘A-ha’’ mo­ments just like that as we see lit­tle bits of our­selves on al­most ev­ery page.

– Felic­ity Price

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