To Hell with All That

I like Caitlin Flanagan. I don't agree with her on everything, but she's one of the most visible writers I can think of who writes about hot-button cultural issues without wielding an inescapable Ax to Grind.

This book surprised me, though. I had seen Flanagan plug it on The Colbert Report - which, admittedly, lends its own spin to the topic - and thought I was in for more of a right-leaning discussion than she presents.

Honestly, it's a pretty toothless book. Flanagan lays out the various slings and arrows facing modern mothers and wives: to work or not to work, what counts as a clean house, who's raising the children, and don't we all really want wives? But she doesn't commit strongly to either side of any question; she just presents her understanding of reality, and leaves it at that.

At times she creates her own contradictions: Proudly stating that she stayed home with her twin boys for the first several years of their lives, she conveniently ignores the fact that she had a full-time nanny at the time - a nanny whom she spends an entire chapter discussing and praising, not 100 pages prior. I don't begrudge Flanagan any of her choices, but to me (and here's my own bias: part-time SAHM, part-time WOHM, couldn't do either full-time without going nuts), if you've got more than an occasional babysitter for the odd movie night or evening meeting, you're not a full-time SAHM.

The end of the book is a suckerpunch - as it must've felt for Flanagan, too - when the author has a cancer scare. Suddenly the choices and questions and worries of the previous 200 pages seem pretty stupid, and the only question worth asking is, "How do I stick around for my kids?" It's a poignant ending to a breezier read than I expected.

To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife by Caitlin Flanagan. Little, Brown, 2006, 239 pages.

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