Books Are Pretty

Sunday, October 16, 2005

What Do You Do All Day?

I've been writing what passes for book reviews for the past several months, hidden away over here on this peanut of a blog that nobody reads, for one purpose only: to become competent with a new, possibly marketable skill to ingratiate myself to publishing companies and receive as many free books as humanly possible, until one of the children is crushed to death under the sheer weight of them all.

It is with this goal firmly established that I review Amy Scheibe's debut novel What Do You Do All Day?, a fictional novel about a former Manhattan hottie turned stay-at-home mom. First, however, we have to get something out of the way. Do you see the cover? The cover of this book, designed by Olga Grlic, the associate art director at St. Martin's Press, was a hot topic of discussion at our house for weeks, and I am not kidding when I tell you that in order to finish the book I had to take the dust jacket off and hide it from my children. The way they carried on about that melted orange popsicle, you would have thought it was a photo of a bloody glove inside a white Bronco. That's a popsicle! It's an orange popsicle! It's melting! Mommy, that popsicle is melting! Who let that orange popsicle melt? Why would they do that? and, from the three-year-old, Pick it up! Pick it up and put it in the fridgerator! PICK IT UUUUUUUUUPPPPP!!!!

I have never read a book with a cover that caused such an instant riot. Ten years from now I'll kick back on the couch and bust out The Best of Penthouse in front of the boys and see which causes the greater comment. Until then, I can't imagine what other cover could cause such a similar upset.

Do you know why this cover is so brilliant? It's because that little scenario regarding the orange popsicle scandal sums up the theme of the book exactly. Scheibe portrays the endless battle of modern motherhood - the pressing need to answer an endless barrage of questions that are irrelevant to the answerer but extremely important to the questioner, the necessity of putting out the dozens, if not hundreds of flare-ups that arise every single day when children are pouring juice all by themselves, fighting over who gets to sit in which chair, or blaming each other when an orange popsicle is left to melt on the white couch. And in between all this, the primary caretaker is left to tend to her own inner flame, and somehow nurture it in between all the emergencies created by the demands of small children.

Grlic took that theme of motherhood's universal stuggle and distilled it down to one perfect photo that flawlessly created another damned flare-up, at least in my house, anyway. Interestingly enough, Grlic was also responsible for improving the cover of Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons for the paperback version.

The original cover, as you can see here, with it's letterman's jacket font and obnoxious purple college colors, definitely gets across the theme of the book, which is that young girls go to college but lose their virginal innocence, with much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and repenting to follow. If this novel had been set in the fifties, which perhaps it should have been, the cover would have worked. As it is, using this cover to sell young women on the idea that virginity is a vitrue is about as effective as lecturing them on the benefits of using a Lysol douche. Grlic reworked the cover, giving it a more spare, hipper theme, using a more tasteful, subtle touch to offset the ham-fisted rhetoric inside.

Ah! Much better. Now it looks as if the narrator is taking an active role in her own story, rather than being a passive victim that suffers at the hands of the randy college men. I still hate the book, but approve of the second cover. First lesson learned from Amy Scheibe: get Olga Grlic to design your book covers. And Scheibe, who works in publishing herself, would know this.

According to Scheibe's mother, who wrote a glowing review of What Do You Do All Day? at, Scheibe wrote the book on the weekends, after slugging it out at the publishing company during the week by day, and picking up socks and juice boxes off the floor at home at night, and it shows in the book. It has a timeless, dreamy, What day is it? When did I take a shower last? My God, I'm so tired quality to it that actually lends itself quite well to the voice of protagonist Jennifer Bradley. Having given up a career as an antiques art dealer and nightlife as a club kid in Manhattan to stay at home with her two children, Bradley dreamily weaves back and forth detailing the all-consuming minutia that fills the day of a childcare provider. Woven into the dream is the thread of discontent and uncertainty that tug at the minds of all parents - have I chosen the correct path? Will I lose the part of me that belongs only to me? Is it too late to switch paths? Why am I so god damned fat? The thread becomes taut and the dialogue more sparkling when Bradley is confronted by the popular enemies of ficticious mothers everywhere - the evil mother-in-law, the husband's evil boss, and the absentee spouse. With her husband Thom on a three month long business trip, a plot development that made me want to hide under the bed in horror, Bradley is left to ward off her nagging suspicious questions about the condition of her marital state with only her mother-in-law to dart in and out of the picture, sowing dischord and disapproval, and her husband's sleazy, patronizing boss forever sending him on international trips with no respect for Thom's need to participate in his family life.

As Bradley becomes ever aware of the rising need for her to take control of her disintegrating family, both financially and emotionally, she gathers the wagons around her in the form of her posse of SAHPs and prepares to do battle: the battle to save her marriage and the battle to, if not have it all, to at least have as much as she can.

What Do You Do All Day? was published in 2005 by St. Martin's Press.
First Edition
ISBN 0-312-34303-5
305 pages

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