Summary and book reviews of I Don't Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson

I Don't Know How She Does It

The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother

By Allison Pearson

I Don't Know How She Does It
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2002,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2003,
    352 pages.

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Book Summary

For every woman trying to strike that impossible balance between work and home--and pretending that she has--and for every woman who has wanted to hurl the acquaintance who coos admiringly, "Honestly, I just don't know how you do it," out a window, here's a novel to make you cringe with recognition and laugh out loud. With fierce, unsentimental irony, Allison Pearson's novel brilliantly dramatizes the dilemma of working motherhood at the start of the twenty-first century.

Meet Kate Reddy, hedge-fund manager and mother of two. She can juggle nine different currencies in five different time zones and get herself and two children washed and dressed and out of the house in half an hour. In Kate's life, Everything Goes Perfectly as long as Everything Goes Perfectly. She lies to her own mother about how much time she spends with her kids; practices pelvic floor squeezes in the boardroom; applies tips from Toddler Taming to soothe her irascible boss; uses her cell phone in the office bathroom to procure a hamster for her daughter's birthday ("Any working mother who says she doesn't bribe her kids can add Liar to her résumé"); and cries into the laundry hamper when she misses her children's bedtime.

In a novel that is at once uproariously funny and achingly sad, Allison Pearson captures the guilty secret lives of working women--the self-recrimination, the comic deceptions, the giddy exhaustion, the despair--as no other writer has. Kate Reddy's conflict -- How are we meant to pass our days? How are we to reconcile the two passions, work and motherhood, that divide our lives? --gets at the private absurdities of working motherhood as only a novel could: with humor, drama, and bracing wisdom.

Home

Monday, 1:37 a.m.
How did I get here? Can someone please tell me that? Not in this kitchen, I mean in this life. It is the morning of the school carol concert and I am hitting mince pies. No, let us be quite clear about this, I am distressing mince pies, an altogether more demanding and subtle process.

Discarding the Sainsbury luxury packaging, I winkle the pies out of their pleated foil cups, place them on a chopping board and bring down a rolling pin on their blameless floury faces. This is not as easy as it sounds, believe me. Hit the pies too hard and they drop a kind of fat-lady curtsy, skirts of pastry bulging out at the sides, and the fruit starts to ooze. But with a firm downward motion--imagine enough pressure to crush a small beetle--you can start a crumbly little landslide, giving the pastry a pleasing homemade appearance. And homemade is what I'm after here. Home is where the heart is. Home is where the good mother is, baking for her children.

All this ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Reading Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Allison Pearson's I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother, a hilarious, heartbreaking, and utterly unforgettable novel about a working mother trying to strike that impossible balance between work and family.


Discussion Topics
  1. At 1:37 a.m. on an average night, Kate Reddy has just returned from a business trip to Sweden and is banging store-bought mince pies with a rolling pin so that they'll look homemade for her daughter's school Christmas party. She then goes out to the trash bins to hide the pie boxes so that Paula, her nanny, won't tell ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Time - Margaret Carlson

A sparkling novel about juggling marriage, kids, and job (and getting some sleep) . . . Nearly every female lucky enough to have both a child and a byline . . . has strip-mined Pearson's theme how to squeeze babies, marriage and a high-powered job into a day that cannot be stretched beyond 24 hours. But Pearson's Kate, a brisk, sardonic, loving world beater, has made it all fresh again.

New York Times Book Review - Kate Betts

[H]eartbreaking . . . Anyone who has pumped breast milk in the back of a taxi, or wept quietly into the laundry hamper after arriving home too late for a good-night kiss, will recognize herself in this sharply observed, sometimes painfully sad story about the sordid disparity between the ideal and the reality of 'having it all.'

Newsweek - Cathleen McGuigan

What makes [Kate's] tale such a hoot are the spot-on details that crowd her life and her brain–and will be familiar to any woman who's ever tried to dress a squirming toddler while calling the office to explain why she's late . . . Pearson has an effortlessly smart style . . . I don't know a man on the planet who would get this book–or a woman who wouldn't.

Vogue - Sarah Lyall

The fraught lives of modern women, especially those with children, is a classic theme of the age…But Pearson's book is refreshingly engaging because of the high quality of the prose and her uncanny ability to move from farce to pathos in the course of a single paragraph.

Washington Post - Marjorie Williams

If you could buy stock in a book, I would stake all my savings on the success of Allison Pearson's new novel, I Don't Know How She Does It. Here, at last, is the definitive social comedy of working motherhood.

Kirkus Reviews

An above-average addition to the crowded genre of working-mother-angst novels....The clever cattiness of the early chapters gives way to an earnest, endearing introspection that makes it possible for Kate to strike a more satisfying, if almost too-perfect-to-believe, balance between family and work. From the upper echelons of working mothers, a fictional answer to The Nanny Diaries--and likely to be as popular.

Publishers Weekly

.... as a hilarious and sometimes poignant update on contemporary women in the workplace, it's the book to beat.

Library Journal

Named both Critic of the Year and Interviewer of the Year at the British Press Awards, Pearson is also the mother of two. So she should know how protagonist Kate Reddy balances her job as hedge fund manager with being a mom.

Booklist - Meredith Parets

This terrific novel is alternately hilarious and sad, and the driven, irreverent Kate Reddy is the perfect companion for this headlong voyage into the world of a high-powered hedge fund manager and mother of two.

Reader Reviews
Reni

Woman's need to know
Well, I'm 26 years old single woman and still have no idea about something a named marriage, but from Pearson's book make me understand how hard to be a motherhood n a worker for a woman...full of dilemma. Always Make me think " I don't know how...   Read More

Isabella

Not good at all..

Zsu

Unputdownable! What I liked at the end of the book was a comment about the author' husband appreciating HIS help: 'I don't know how HE does it!' Aren't we parents all doing a great job? Women, of course, most of all...

Anonymous

Love the Book.

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