Alice Pearse is the happily married mother of three. She has a relaxed part time job reviewing books for a women's magazine that allows her to still be a part of the PTA crowd. Her beloved parents live quite close and she has a wonderful babysitter to help her on days she's working. Her husband Nicholas is a lawyer at a high powered firm and they all seem relatively content with their lives. That is, until Nicholas finds out he won't be making partner at his firm and decides that he's going to start his own small legal practice. Worried about what this means for them financially, Alice starts to look for full time work to keep the family afloat while Nicholas slowly builds a client base. She lucks into a job that seems like a book lover's dream: content manager at startup Scroll, a company intent on creating an entirely new bookstore experience. Alice will be on the ground floor of something truly innovative and she is one of the people who gets the opportunity to find and curate the collection of books that will be available in these amazing sounding literary lounges. The only downside seems to be the very real threat these e-book and first edition p-books (that's Scroll speak for paper book) reading rooms pose to traditional brick and mortar independent bookstores. But Alice can look past that; she has to, doesn't she?
Setting aside the troubling fact that the company's parent is a monolithic retail mall developer, Alice is initially excited about the vision of Scroll and its focus on the whole reading experience. Even if she is a good decade older than most of the employees and she smirks at the ridiculous jargon they all use, she is fully invested in her job. As a matter of fact, she's so invested that she feels she's missing out on the home front. And she is. She's so attached to her phone, tied to her emails, and consumed by her job that she barely sees what's going on with her kids, she misses a doctor's appointment where her father discovers that his throat cancer has reoccurred, and she misses the fact that her husband is suddenly drinking too much as a way to alleviate his own stress. Meanwhile, Scroll is not designed to accommodate a work life balance and its clearly stated intentions are changing from what they once were, morphing at the speed of light to something that isn't quite as aligned with Alice's beliefs as it once was. Alice is frazzled and unhappy, stuck in a juggling act that just serves to make her feel terrible. Things must come to a head and Alice has to decide just how far she can stray from her ideals before she no longer likes herself and how much her family's and her own happiness means to her.
Alice is an appealing character who just wants to do the best thing for her family and to be happy. She is pulled in a million different directions and her thoughts and feelings on the push and pull are incredibly realistic. Egan's depiction of the book world, the flux that it is in, and the threat of huge, impersonal corporations which hire enthusiastic people, only to dismiss their very valid suggestions and concerns about the industry, is spot on. There is much that is heartbreaking here, a struggle to adjust, terminal cancer, and the almost too late realization of what is most important in our lives. Egan doesn't condemn anyone for their choices but she clearly explains the compromises that we all have to make and the cost those compromises can bring. Nicholas is a frustrating character, unable to slide into the role in which Alice served him for years and resentful that she needed him to do that. I wanted to like him for the loving things he did but instead he made me angry for his lack of realization about how his decision to start his own firm and to burn his bridges at the old place would seismically shift his family and all the roles, his included, in it. The narrative pacing is a little uneven in places, with definite slowdowns in the tale. There are brief light moments but this is not really a funny book; it is far more serious than it initially seems. It's an examination of the lives we build, the trade-offs we make, and finding the balance we can live with, even if that balance will never be 50/50. It's sad but ultimately hopeful and incredibly relate-able.
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Thanks to the publisher and BookSparks PR for sending me a copy of the book for review.