Into the ongoing debate over whether or not women can “have it all” comes a Molotov cocktail thrown by an unlikely provocateur. Claire Messud’s new novel, The Woman Upstairs (Knopf, 272 pp., $25.95), posits that the natural state of womanhood, at least after age 40, is to have nothing, and that satisfaction of any sort can come only via self-deception.
Ms. Messud’s brief novel comes seven years after The Emperor’s Children, a book that appraises the vanities and prejudices of a group of recent Brown graduates who are too educated for their own good and, at the novel’s commencement, untouched by tragedy. Her protagonist here, Nora Eldridge, is older (she’s 42) and dramatically overeducated (at least, so she thinks) for her job teaching elementary school in suburban Massachusetts. Her soul is marbled by a series of disappointments. The Emperor’s Children used September 11, 2001, as a narrative device to convey just how much innocence its protagonists had lost; there are no such real-world incursions into Nora’s psyche. The disaster, for her, is happening daily. Read More