Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Review: Wishful Thinking by Kamy Wicoff

If you're a parent, you've probably found yourself wishing for more time to accomplish something or maybe just for time to slow down. Our world is so crammed full of commitments and everything important seems to pass in such a blink of an eye that there never seem to be enough hours in the day to do everything you need or want to do. Now imagine that you are a single mother whose ex hasn't been particularly helpful in the past but now wants to reexamine your custody agreement, especially in light of everything you've been missing lately, and a stranger gives you the ability to be in more than one place at a time. It sounds like a godsend, doesn't it? At least at first it did to Jennifer Sharpe, the main character in Kamy Wicoff's novel, Wishful Thinking. And then it didn't.

Jennifer is a single mom in New York City. Norman, her ex, has been pretty non-existent in her boys' lives since the divorce so she's had to shoulder everything. She switched jobs to have more time with her boys, Julien and Jack, but recently her lower key, lower paying non-profit housing authority job has ramped up to not only mimic the private sector but even to exceed its pressures and workaholic expectations. At the same time, her long time babysitter wants to cut back on her hours so she herself can go back to school. Jennifer is frazzled and overwhelmed by all the competing claims on her time. When her wealthy new boss offers her a bonus if she and her new coworker, Alicia, get their project, originally called It Takes a Village and re-dubbed One Stop, a single community center designed to house all social services offices and centrally located in the neighborhood they serve, Jennifer has to devote even more time to work.  Since there's no way to make a day have more than 24 hours, her time with her boys suffers. Losing her phone, with its jam-packed calendar, is just the latest disaster in a life getting out of control. Miraculously, a neighbor finds and returns the phone, having installed a new app called Wishful Thinking on it. That it purports to be for women who need to be in more than one place at the same time makes Jennifer skeptical but when she has to work late and is faced with missing Julien's guitar recital, on a whim she decides to try this strange and intriguing app. Amazingly, it works.  But in order to use it again, Jennifer has to track down her neighbor, Dr. Diane Sexton, the inventor and a brilliant physicist, and convince her that she, Jennifer, is the perfect person to be used in a clinical trial of this time travel technology. She has to agree to limit her use of the app and after she tells her best friend, Vinita, a doctor, about it, she agrees to medical monitoring as well.

At first she is thrilled to be able to be superwoman at work and still spend quality time with her boys, no longer missing the events of their lives. But she soon discovers that work expands to fill the time she has available and instead of feeling fully present at the important moments in her life, she is still juggling everything: a crazy work schedule, the needs of her boys, and the sleep deprivation that is a symptom of her increased, clandestine overuse of the magic app. Jennifer has more time than ever before but it is every bit as filled as before she could travel through wormholes and gain extra time in her day. The question is not whether she can do it all with Wishful Thinking's help but whether she is happier and more fulfilled as a person as a result and what the ultimate fallout of relying on this technological miracle might be.

Wicoff has written a fanciful and entertaining look at the impossibility of having and doing it all and the costs for those who try. No one can do everything all by themselves, something that Jennifer easily recognizes for the people she's designed One Stop to benefit but she is unable to see the value and necessity of help and community in her own life, at least until she's pushed to breaking. This novel is both a mother's wish fulfillment--after all, who hasn't wished for more hours in the day--but also a cautionary tale about the connections we make, the value of vulnerability, asking for and accepting help, and the importance of finding your own personal balance and contentment. The novel hits at the myth of the Supermom, that impossible socially constructed role model, who unfortunately makes so many women feel inferior or incapable, but in an accessible, light, and engaging way. There is a light romance here as well as looks at the various different relationships that make up our lives and the people who form our community. You'll zip through this frantically paced, sometimes predictable novel without any of the panic that the pace induces in Jennifer, simply enjoying her interactions with the people around her at work and at home as she learns what it means to be present in the here and now of life. A fun and frothy read, it might just cause you to look at your own self-imposed expectations about what you can and should be accomplishing in your daily life.

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