A Window Opens

Elisabeth Egan

By JESSE KORNBLUTH
Published: Aug 30, 2015
Category: Books
In the cookie-cutter women’s crowd pleaser, the heroine is a Superior Being — a Brainy Beauty and all-around Good Person who must wage a Superwoman battle to achieve wealth and position.
Not Alice Pease.
Alice is a mother of three kids under 12, wife of her college boyfriend for 13 years, resident of a New Jersey suburb. She’s talented, but no genius. Pretty, but not stylish or hot. Perceptive, but without an edge. In the movie, she’ll be played by Reese Witherspoon.
All of that is good news, because the one sure thing about Alice Pease is that she’s — this is the new entertainment grail, friends; learn it and use it — “relatable.” She’s the woman who collects “new friends wherever I can find them.” An optimist. Good at changing in sync with her husband. We like her because we know her. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here. For the audio book, click here.]
“A Window Opens” tells four stories. One is what happens to Alice’s marriage when her husband doesn’t make partner at a New York law firm and opens an office of his own in their town. One is about a woman stepping up to earn more money for her family at a hip, young startup. One is about a woman and her dying father. And one is about mothering three kids with one hand on your Smartphone.
That’s a lot. If you read the novel, you’ll no doubt select a favorite. I have limited tolerance for scenes involving cute children not my own. I thought the husband’s drinking crisis was bullshit. I was moved by Alice’s love for her dying father. But what really engaged me was Alice’s work life.
Scroll finds Alice on Twitter. How…now. As is Scroll, which has aspects of Starbucks, just with leather chairs and first editions. This seems like a ludicrous business, but serious people run it and they’re absolutely messianic about their mission. There are Content Managers and Analytics Experts and Quality Control Representatives. There are slogans: “Winners Get It Right” and “Always Take Action.” Alice, who will be the link between Scroll and the New York book publishers, must be cognizant of SSR — sustained silent reading — and also gummy bears, the snack most consumed by voracious readers. And then there’s the perk for new employees: a first edition classic you can keep in your office. Alice, naturally, chooses “A Room of One’s Own.”
Scroll is run by soulless millennials who say “Bon app!” as they toast with water glasses. They give lectures about “mindfulness in the arena of office supplies.” And, inevitably, they make a “pivot” away from “carbon-based” books to video games. When Alice’s father dies, they send an Edible Arrangement.
“A Window Opens” had the great good fortune to show up just as The New York Times published a zillion-word piece about the anti-human culture of Amazon. Reading the piece and the book at the same time, I thought Egan was smart to mute her attack with irony instead of feminist indignation.
Then I read a shorter, more pointed piece by Julia Cheiffetz: I Had a Baby and Cancer When I Worked at Amazon. This Is My Story. It’s exactly what you suspect: Cheiffetz was on maternity leave when Amazon dropped her health coverage. Then she was diagnosed with cancer. Amazon’s best efforts produced a belated offer of COBRA coverage. Then she was placed on a “dubious performance improvement plan,” or PIP. Then she resigned.
Elisabeth Egan, like her main character, has three kids. She lives in New Jersey. She knows firsthand about the sickness of a parent, and how important books are to kids, and “whether or not you should buy your minivan at the end of the lease or trade it in for a new one.” She is now the books editor at Glamour. From that perch, she can’t launch missiles at Amazon, so she made the Scrollers merely misguided. I know better, and yet I ate it up. “A Window Opens” is that relatable.