Two writing mothers: One has a book deal, and one does not

September 22, 2002|By SUSAN REIMER

KATE REDDY and I have a great deal in common. We are both strung-out, time-starved, guilt-ridden working mothers with husbands whose idea of picking up the house before a party is to straighten the paint can shelf in the garage.

Our children resent our leaving for work and punish us upon our return. Our husbands don't seem to understand that items left on the bottom step are meant to be carried upstairs. Neither of us dares utter these forbidden words in front of a boss: "child" and "leave early."

And we both confess it all in a newspaper column.

But we differ in a couple of important ways.

A six-figure book deal, a $2 million movie deal and a photo layout in Vogue magazine.

Kate Reddy is the creation of British journalist Allison Pearson, who chronicles Kate's human pinball existence in a weekly diary in The Daily Telegraph.

Kate is most often described as Bridget Jones' older sister: a 36-year-old financial fund manager, married to a foggy, underemployed architect, with two needy children, a snippy nanny and all sorts of emotional conflicts and family-of-origin baggage.

Pearson herself is 42, lives in London, is married to The New Yorker movie critic Anthony Lane and is the mother of Evie, 5, and Thomas, 3.

Already an accomplished interviewer and social commentator, Pearson uses her skills to pick through the chaotic lives of her friends and find the material that has made Kate Reddy such an iconic figure among the grimly determined working mothers just like her.

"It was like opening a little door into a parallel universe," Pearson told Vogue. "We all know it exists, but everyone thinks she lives in it by herself . . . ."

I hate to be petty, but I have been writing the same kind of stuff for a long time, and Vogue magazine hasn't called me with so much as a discount subscription offer.

Not only do I not have a book deal, I had to drop out of my book club because I couldn't keep up with the reading.

Movies? I don't rent them because I don't have time to return them. Actually watching them is out of the question.

Allison Pearson's daughter says insightful things about her mother's work, such as: "Wouldn't it be nice if the weekends could be the weeks and the weeks could be the weekends, so mummies and daddies could see their children more?"

My own children say insightful things, such as: "Mommy gets dressed up and goes away every day and leaves us with someone we don't like. Then she comes home in a bad mood and makes us a sorry meal."

Do I seem bitter? I am. Very.

The brutal irony is that Allison Pearson is writing fiction, while every week I sift through my personal triumphs and traumas for material - only to be accused of making it all up.

"I couldn't make this stuff up," I shout at my editors, only to have Allison Pearson prove me wrong and make millions in the bargain.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that no one is asking me to pose in a boxwood garden wearing Armani. I am better suited to standing next to James Whitmore, wearing coveralls and pitching Miracle-Gro.

Allison Pearson and I have both written books based our newspaper columns. But while I had to pitch Motherhood is a Contact Sport out of the back of my van at swim meets, her novel is flying off the shelves - and it isn't for sale yet!

I Don't Know How She Does It is a best-seller in England and it won't arrive in stores there, or in this country, until October.

But excerpts are appearing everywhere, especially the opening scene where Kate is "distressing" store-bought mince pies at 2 a.m. to make them look homemade.

Pearson talks to Vogue about the "yelp of recognition" that her writing evokes in women who all know what it is like to try to get a crying baby back to sleep at 3 a.m., knowing that you have a make-or-break meeting at 8 a.m. And she talks about the consolation of knowing, "I am not alone."

My difficulty with Pearson is not only that Goldie Hawn will not play me in the movie version of my life, but that while all the rest of the working mothers are yelping with recognition at her description of our shared lot, I am yelping with pain: envy can hurt like a stone in a shoe.

This is Pearson on marriage:

"My lovely, funny Richard, who once looked at me as Dennis Quaid looked at Ellen Barkin in The Big Easy and now, thirteen years into an equal, mutually supportive partnership, looks at me the way a smoking beagle looks at a medical researcher - aware that such experiments may need to be conducted for the sake of human progress, but still somehow pleading for release."

"Damn," I mutter as I read. "I wish I'd written that."

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