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Substitute Me

December 2, 2010

I recently won a copy of the book Substitute Me by Lori Tharps, through a giveaway on MamaLaw. I left a comment to enter, and I had to say in the comment what I would do with a “substitute me.” If I could have a double, what would I have her do? I said I would have it do the boring stuff like work and cleaning, so I could hang out with my kids, take care of the people in my life who need taking care of, and of course read and do all the fun stuff I don’t have time to do now!

Anyway, the premise of the book is that Kate is going back to work after her 6 month maternity leave. She places an ad for a nanny, saying she wants a “Substitute Me.” She wants to hire someone who will love her son, Oliver, as much as she does and take care of him as attentively. Kate and Brad live in New York City, where everyone has a nanny and everyone tries to work harder and get ahead of everyone else. That is, at least, the way Kate sees it.

After Kate hires Zora, the seemingly perfect young woman to care for Ollie, every mother and wife’s “nanny nightmare” comes true. She really does become a substitute for Kate, even with her husband. Zora and Brad have an ugly, unseemly affair and Brad confesses all, throwing everyone into chaos. Now, this is a bit of a predictable or cliche’d situation. Daddy boinking the nanny, of course it happens.

But what I found more interesting about this story was not the nanny affair, but the decisions that Kate made throughout. I for one, would not want someone to take my place as a nanny. Yes, I want my children’s care givers to do just that… care for them. But I’m the Mama. I cannot be replaced or interchanged (is that a word?), and I don’t want to give anyone the chance to do that. This is probably part of the reason why I’ve never seriously considered hiring a nanny, but chose day care centers instead for childcare. I just don’t someone in my space all the time, especially when I’m not there!

So, this was a good read and I can see that it would be a great book club book. Several of the reviews on the cover suggest that it would lead to endless discussions in that setting. And it would. Although I found, and believe most other working moms/book club members would find the characterization of Kate unfair. Once she finds out about the affair, fires Zora, kicks Brad out and files for divorce she seems to become the villian. No, she shouldn’t keep her son from seeing his father, but she is not the “bad guy” here. She was wronged and she deserves to be angry. I’m not sure all this would do much to help working moms feel more comfortable about their decisions!

I also thought it was funny that in the author’s bio on the book’s back cover, the last sentence reads, “She does not have a nanny.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. jec permalink
    December 2, 2010 5:56 pm

    Great review and analysis. It would make a good discussion book, especially for moms with young-ish kids. Sounds a little like “She May Not Leave” by Fay Weldon–I think we both read that.

  2. jec permalink
    December 2, 2010 6:02 pm

    And congratulations on winning the book, btw. Another book (from the 1980s) that touches on this theme is “Men and Angels” by Mary Gordon.

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