Published by Simon & Schuster
Publication date: August 25th 2015
It seems that I stumbled into a payload of modern American life fiction. Two weeks ago I reviewed Days of Awe and now I’m back with A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan, a female centric novel that may seem as if it is weighted with an overload of heavy events but it’s not. What it is is real, messy, complicated, and confusing with new jobs, shifting marital responsibilities, kids growing up, and parents getting sick. For the main character, Alice, it’s life and for the reader there is moment after moment of recognition—we’ve all been there and if we had the skill to write with such insight and dry humor we would, but for now, Egan says it far better than we could.
Alice has what seems to be the perfect life—she’s a part-time books editor at a woman’s magazine, her three children are now all in school and her husband is up to be promoted at his law firm. And then, as they do in life, things change. Nicholas not only doesn’t get his promotion but he quits to start his own practice, a move that means Alice will need a fulltime job. Unfortunately, more hours are not possible at the magazine so it is a dream come true when she is offered a job as a content manager for Scroll, a huge online company that wants to redefine brick and mortar bookstores as luxury hideaways for the reader. Everyone at the company is young and hip leaving her a bit out of her element at first, having gotten married and having her first child by the time she was 26.
The young Brooklyn hipsters were an impressive bunch. They answered emails after midnight while tending their chickens and building lamps from spare parts salvaged at flea markets. They baked artisanal macarons and wove their own reusable coffee filters and trained for weekend mud runs upstate.
It is this kind of humor, sharp and a little snarky that runs through A Window Opens and makes it so wonderfully appealing. At the same time Egan uses this humor in softer ways to deal with personal and professional generational differences. There is Alice’s father, who embraces technology to stay in touch but also thinks an immediate reply is necessary and will continue to text until he gets one, or her young boss who thinks an Edible Arrangement is appropriate for condolences.
Egan writes with strength throughout A Window Opens and much of the novel hits home. It is only as Alice enters the home stretch of her dilemma about her job at Scroll that the novel falters. I wanted the focus to stay on the battle between corporate-online-giant-versus-bookstores but Egan veers into the more touchy feely territory of motherhood. An admirable topic to be sure and one that makes for good fiction as well but in the larger context of the story it left me detached. And yet, I can’t say disappointed because Egan’s writing is so delicious. I can only compare my feelings about A Window Opens to a relationship. We met, I fell madly in love, but as the end approached I realized we were simply too different and so we parted friends. Friends who enjoyed each other’s company but without a deep connection.
This is not a book I would have picked up left to my own devices, but your review has given me new perspective!
Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors says
I love your analogy at the end of this review! Perfectly summarized! 🙂
Sarah's Book Shelves says
I’ve been waffling about whether to read this…it sounded appealing (esp the online vs. brick/mortar stuff), then Tara at Running N Reading DNF’d it, now you are so-so. Hmm. Maybe I’ll keep it in my back pocket for when I need something light. I do like snarky writing and did like Days of Awe 🙂
Sarah, for you, it’s a quick skim that will make you laugh because her wit is sharp but you could quit at 3/4 through and be all right.
Tara @ Running 'N' Reading says
Catherine, I’m so glad to hear that I was not alone in my assessment/feelings of this book! I had really high expectations for this one which, undoubtedly, were met as I began the novel; the further I got into it, though, I became disappointed for what sounds to be like a similar reason. I was really, REALLY interested to hear more about Scroll and the dynamics there, but Egan veered off into the familiar territory that bores me easily. Great review!
That was exactly it, Tara! I wanted her to kick ass and take names; find a solution to the problem and instead she kind of bailed.
Glad to see some more good things about this book. It’s staring at me every day.
Cynthia Robertson says
Question for ya, Catherine: I noticed you tagged this one as Chick-lit. Is it still Chick-lit if the main protag is married? What separates a novel like this from Women’s fic? Or even Literary? Is it to ‘light’ to be straight Literary?
Just curious about your thoughts on this, since you read so much, and across a broad spectrum.
I’ve seen this one else-where and thought it sounded good. But yeah, I can see where it veering off into mommy-land would be a disappointment (for me, as well).
Cynthia, that was mis-tag on my part but your question is a good one! I use chick-lit for really fluffy, superficial fiction that does nothing more than entertain me. I know plenty of people who think the term is derogatory towards women but I’m not sure what is a better term. What does Women’s Fiction mean to you because maybe I should use that. And yes, lighter works, often with humor at their core, tend not to feel literary to me.
Egan is sharp and I liked her humor but, yes, mommy books don’t work for me. I always want the protagonist to choose her career! Which is why I don’t have kids, I guess. 😉
Cynthia Robertson says
Ugh! I just reread my comment, and I meant TOO light to be literary. (I hate to make typos on comments.)
Anyway, if it was mis-tagged, then my question is kinda silly here. I agree about chick-lit being mostly to entertain, and not having much deeper substance.
Thanks for your reply! 🙂
Your question wasn’t silly at all- I did tag it that way but then thought about it and it doesn’t really fit that mold (or my interpretation of it). You just made me think about it which is always great. But I still don’t have an answer. 🙁 Women’s fiction is the right term for this novel!