Book Review: “How Hard Can It Be?”
by Allison Pearson

[First published July 26, 2018]

If someone set out to write a fictionalized account about the perils of female midlife crisis they could not come up with a more entertaining and spot-on book than Allison Pearson’s How Hard Can It Be? That is probably exactly what her goal was, just as she demonstrated a commanding knowledge of the problems facing working mothers in her last book, I Don’t Know How She Does It. Besides having a knack for catchy titles, Pearson has an eye and an ear for universal situations facing overwhelmed women while at the same time making her characters compelling and believably individual.

Yes, this is chick lit, but in its highest form. Pearson’s novel is not meant to trivialize women’s issues, but to illuminate them, along with a good dose of feminism in the mix. And she does all this in a self-deprecating tone that is often laugh-out-loud funny.

I don’t know how she does it, but Pearson’s depiction of the protagonist Kate Reddy, mother of two teens, out of the workforce but looking for a job since her husband has decided to reinvent himself as a spiritually inspired counselor, sounds like someone you know, or maybe you yourself. This is in spite of the fact that the novel takes place in London and its suburbs, suggesting that women face common issues everywhere.

Juggling her children’s problems and demands, her husband’s new found self-absorption, her symptoms of peri-menopause, her mother and her in-laws declining health, and her need to hold all this together, Kate is frantic. As the book opens, her daughter Emily, 15, gets embroiled in an inadvertent sexting scandal, catapulting Kate into the treacherous waters of 21st century technology. Meanwhile, she’s determined to re-enter the workforce where she once was a player in the finance world but is now afraid of being seen as a dinosaur.

Kate is also on the verge of being 50, her birthday is approaching fast. She imagines that this is the age when women become “invisible,” and for personal reasons, as well as maximizing her employment prospects, she decides that she will henceforth be 42.

With her 25th school reunion looming, determines that she must lose weight. She is considering various types of plastic surgery too. Significantly, she is also having fantasies about Jack, an old boyfriend who has emailed her recently and occupies “the one who got away” space in her mind.

Kate’s marriage, challenged by her husband’s own midlife crisis, is also suffering the recognizable doldrums of the very-married. Pearson has a talent for communicating her heroine’s woes without whining but with stinging precision nevertheless,  as is evident in this description of what it’s like to “sleep” with Richard. Her daughter has come into the room in the middle of the night:

“No need to look over to check that Richard’s still asleep. I can hear that he’s asleep. With every year of our marriage, my husband’s snoring has gotten louder. What began as piglet snufflings twenty years ago is now a nightly hog symphony, complete with wind section. Sometimes, at the snore’s crescendo, it gets so loud that Rich wakes himself up with a start, rolls over and starts the symphony’s first movement again. Otherwise, he is harder to wake than a saint on a tomb.

Richard had the same talent for Selective Nocturnal Deafness when Emily was a baby, so it was me who got up two or three times in the night to respond to her cries, locate her blankie, change her nappy, soothe and settle her, only for that penitential playlet to begin all over again. Maternal sonar doesn’t come with an off switch, worse luck.”

Emily has come in the room to confide in her mother the details of the technology snafu that sets the plot in motion. Her closest friend asked her for a selfie of her summer tan lines, and Emily’s obligingly sent a photo of her bare bottom on snapchat to her. The latter “inadvertently” took a screenshot of it and soon the photo was being seen by everyone in school—including the boys.

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