Uncertain Women

Heather Havrilesky in Bookforum:

Article00There is a moment of reckoning in every married woman’s life when she looks around and says to herself, “This support position was falsely advertised as an exciting leadership opportunity.” Someone in HR sold her a bill of goods. Happily ever after, she now realizes, is a trick they play on you, to turn your life into a blur of breast pumps and dirty laundry. No wonder the 2002 marital-angst anthology The Bitch in the House was a best seller. Edited by journalist and novelist Cathi Hanauer and featuring seasoned writers such as Vivian Gornick and Daphne Merkin, the collection zeroed in on the precise moment when, having been told she’d be adored by her new prince forever and ever, Cinderella is led back down to the cellar where the mops and brooms are kept. Recognizing just how deeply ingrained patriarchal notions of marriage still are (no matter how liberated all parties involved claim to be), the book’s contributors refused to tiptoe around their anger and disappointment. Instead, many of their stories seemed to suggest that as long as mainstream culture turns married women into handservants, those handservants will become what mainstream culture calls bitches.

But as gratifyingly familiar as that old sea shanty about the bewildering injustices of our shared heteronormative fantasy can be, there comes a time when a brave sailor must either mutiny, jump ship, or learn to be a happier deckhand in spite of it all. Cue Hanauer’s engrossing sequel, The Bitch Is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier (William Morrow, $27), in which fearless contributors from Ann Hood to Lizzie Skurnick encounter a wider range of challenges, from the dark clouds of middle age to the violent storms of single parenting to the flat sea of a sexless marriage. The writers have far less in common this time around, their personal stories are more varied, and most have long since abandoned the relatively tedious question of whose turn it is to swab the deck.

More here.