"Amanda Bright @ Home"
(Reviewed by Shannon Bloomstran MAY 15, 2003)When I first heard of Amanda Bright@Home, I felt I was the perfect person to review this book. The main character, Amanda Bright, has left a satisfying job to concentrate on raising her two small children. I, too, am a refugee from the working world, although I soon learned that our similarities ended there. Once away from her career and firmly ensconced in her stay at home situation, Amanda is surprised to feel exhausted, overwhelmed and marginalized. I, on the other hand, was a public school teacher for ten years before becoming a stay at home mother and had already cornered the market on feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and marginalized.
Amanda, a likable enough young woman, left her Washington job at the National Endowment for the Arts in order to spend more time with her small son. Several years and one daughter later, Amanda finds herself unable to dig out from the pile of plastic trucks and Barbie dolls. "The levels of toys, papers, pens, books resembled geological strata, dating as far back as a year ago." Amanda lacks the wherewithal to tidy up or even to make dinner, preferring to rely on take-out from various upscale groceries and restaurants. She begrudgingly congratulates her husband, Bob, an attorney with the Department of Justice, when he is put in charge of investigating Megabyte, a Microsoft-like company for possible antitrust violations. Throw in her best friend, a gorgeous political commentator with a millionaire boyfriend, and a catty Mother's Group from her children's private preschool and you can see why Amanda is afflicted with a severe case of "the grass is always greener syndrome." She decides the only way to get out from under the chaos is to chuck it all and go back to work.
The book is fairly funny, as Crittenden mercilessly skewers many institutions of contemporary suburban motherhood. Little Ben and Sophie attend a tony preschool with a headmistress that would make Attila the Hun envious. Ben is admitted despite his "poor scissoring skills." Crittenden seems to delight in mocking this allegedly superior education center, right down to having Ben suspended for waving a peanut butter cookie under another child's nose. Although as the mother of a child with a peanut allergy, I do see the school's point here. She also delights in sending up Amanda's "Mothers' Group," a circle of several mothers who meet to let their children play together, supervised by someone's nanny of course. Amanda cringes at their conversations, which focus solely on child rearing and home decoration, neither of which she seems to have a knack for. Not content to concentrate on the easy targets, Crittenden also takes on the continuum of contemporary feminism with Amanda's former women's lib activist mother on one end who can't believe Amanda is "wasting her life at home' and Amanda's friend Liz on the other, who advises Amanda to "own her housework."
The novel, which by the way, was first serialized in the Wall Street Journal's online edition, swerves about halfway through, becoming more about the Megabyte case than Amanda's home life. Amanda, through a few innocent comments to a reporter, manages to singlehandedly sidetrack the entire investigation. It is, however, difficult to muster up much sympathy for her, in this, or any of her other trials and tribulations. Crittenden never really allows us to see much good about Amanda. I wanted to like her, but she's always depicted with her children in a state of high dudgeon. With one kid in school all day and the other until noon, I couldn't help wondering just what she was doing while they were gone. As the stay at home mother of a rambunctious two year old, even I know some good things about being a stay at home mom. Amanda would have been more believable had she been able to experience even one of these moments. We just don't get to see anything good about Amanda's life until the very end of the novel, a rapid about face that comes too late.
The novel winds up quickly, it's a fast read altogether, and conveniently, with Amanda delaying her re-entry into the job market and hubby taking a new job away from the Department of Justice political hotbed. It ends with her unsure about her future, hoping somehow to blend the working world with the demands of being a mother. Though there is likely to be some refugees from the working world who can relate to Amanda Bright, as for myself, I've spent enough time trying to interest surly adolescents in the effects of the Civil War, I'll take another episode of "The Wiggles" any day.
- Amazon readers rating: from 58 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Amanda Bright@Home at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Amanda Bright@Home (May 2003)
- What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman (1999)
- The President's Secret IMs (July 2007)
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- Official website for Danielle Crittenden
- PBS interview with Danielle Crittenden on What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us
- Flak Magazine review of Amanda Bright@Home
- Bookloons review of Amanda Bright@Home
- January Magazine review of Amanda Bright@Home
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About the Author:
Danielle Crittenden is a journalist and the author of What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us, a book that resulted in Vanity Fair declaring her one of the most important new writers and thinkers about women. Her articles and essays have appeared in many publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, and she is a frequent commentator on national TV and radio. She is also the founding editor of The Women's Quarterly, published by the Washington- based Independent Women's Forum.
She is married to David Frum, a former speechwriter for President Bush. They have two children and live in Washington.