I am so excited to be interviewing Elisabeth Egan today about her debut novel, A Window Opens, today! This book is just so relatable and so honest about the struggles of a working mom that I found myself laughing and crying (even simultaneously) at the adventures Elisabeth has created for Alice in the working world. This book is making my top ten reads list and after I finished it, I just wanted to read it again. Since I have to move on to share more great books with you, I’m begging you to read this one so we can talk about it!
Elisabeth makes for an interesting topic on her own, as explored in this beautiful piece from The New York Times (spoiler alert, don’t read that until you are done with the book!)
I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest thoughts & opinions.
In A Window Opens, beloved books editor at Glamour magazine, Elisabeth Egan, brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age.
Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach.
Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up and her work takes an unexpected turn. Readers will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she―Alice Pearse―really want?
This was such a deeply satisfying read that tackles the struggles of every working mother who is trying to balance it all. Egan creates the perfect balance of humor and heartbreak as Alice tries to navigate the tricky terrain of being an employee, wife, mother, and daughter to her ill father.
This book got me in the all the feels. I highlighted many a passage in this sweet story of Alice and found her to be one of the most relatable characters I have read this year. I also teared up at many of the moments in this story because the struggles of being in the trenches as a working parent were ones that I have experienced myself. Alice tries hard, but it’s an impossible juggle and you feel like you are spiraling a bit with her as the story unfolds.
You are the books editor for Glamour writing about a books editor transitioning into a job in the e-book industry. What inspired you to throw your character, Alice, into this environment and do you think you would struggle as much as she did in this new way of reading books that her client offered?
I threw Alice into this environment because I’d experienced a version of it myself, and the challenge of trying to figure it all out really stuck with me. In real life, I’ve never struggled with reading e-books—depending on the type of book, I don’t mind reading on a screen and you certainly can’t beat the efficiency and certainty of a fully-loaded e-reader if you happen to find yourself stranded on a desert island. What I struggled with really fell under the umbrella of “it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.”
Your book has been compared to I Don’t Know How She Does It, although I must say that I found Alice’s story so much more relatable to my own. I just want to share with our readers one passage, in particular, that I really loved.
As Alice writes a letter to her nanny she says, “Please don’t waste time wondering whether it is possible to “have it all.” Banish the expression from your vocabulary; make sure your friends to do to.” I just love reading that as a mom.
When have you personally struggled with “having it all” and were any of Alice’s moments channeled from your own struggles with the balancing act of your own job & motherhood?
Many of those moments were drawn from my life or from stories I borrowed from friends. (Thankfully, I hang with a crowd of women who are very open and funny about trying to be everything to everyone and still find time to have coffee together. My personal low moment, as seen in the book: the time I went to read to my daughter’s pre-school class and found myself standing under a clothesline strung with depictions of “How My Family Stays Healthy During The Winter”—or some such. My daughter’s contribution: a charming drawing accompanied by the teacher’s handwriting: “My mom uses everybody’s toothbrush.” I guess we were one toothbrush short, so I was sharing. And maybe I passed this off as a health initiative—in any case, how embarrassing!
You read books for a living which has to be the coolest job ever for a reader…or it was, until you came up with the idea for the Book Lady. I am trying to figure out how I can be the Mary Kay equivalent of a book distributor in my town. How did you come up with this concept and how can I sign under you?
I came up with this idea on my own! My husband is always threatening to host a Tupperware party, so I thought, why not books? I have no idea why I haven’t made this happen. Maybe we can be partners?
You create the idea of a No Guilt Book Club in your story, but I understand that this is really something that exists! Can you explain more and for those of us living in small towns, how can we create our own No Guilt Book Club?
I live in a small(ish) town, and that’s where I created the NGBC. Here’s what you need: one bookstore, several cases of wine. For a small fee, your friends can come to the store, hang out with their friends, get a discount on books—and, of course, drink the wine. I also pass out a list of my favorite books from that season, but this isn’t a requirement. The idea is to have a party in the most fun venue around, and also to talk about books without the pressure and guilt that comes from having to read a set title by a set date. That can be stressful!
One of the perks of being an employee at Scroll is that Alice gets her very own first edition copy of a classic. If you were hired at Scroll, what book would you request from management?
I’d request Mrs. Dalloway and give it to my husband for his birthday. Still, there’s no way the first edition could stack up to the beloved, dog-eared Penguin edition he gave me for our first-ever Valentine’s Day back in college.
There are so many laugh-out-loud moments in your story. My favorite (I am still laughing!), is this one- “I yelled so loudly, the tendons in my neck ached for days. (Name a parent who hasn’t’ suffered from this affliction and I will show you someone who is not my friend.)”
Oh, have I felt this pain in my neck!
What is your favorite funny Alice moment in this story?
I love when Alice tries to flush her colleague’s homemade brownie down the toilet. It might not be her most sophisticated moment, but it really captures the way she paints herself into a corner. Or multiple corners, really.
Although this book is very funny, there were many moments that pulled at my heartstrings, particularly the relationship between Alice & her father as he is ill. What scene was the hardest for you to write and did you have to do any research on this particular type of illness when writing your book?
My dad died of throat cancer twelve years ago so no—very little research required. Actually, I was surprised by the little details of his illness that stuck with me. Words like “subglottal” were right on the tip of my tongue, even though (thankfully) I never have to use them anymore. The scenes with Alice’s dad were the easiest ones to write, actually. Ed Pearse isn’t an exact replica of my dad—nobody could be—but spending time with him was the next best thing to having one more day with my dad. I’d forgotten how good it felt to be with someone who knows everything!
If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill