Chic-lit it isn’t!
Christina Hopkinson’s Pile of stuff at the bottom of the stairs
Picture this, I’m sat at the dining table eating my home-cooked dinner and my husband walks in with Burger King stains on his chin and grease on his ‘dinner jumper’, he’s all smiles. He’s happy to see me after a long day at work (and after a grim fast food stop-off), but there’s fear in his eyes too. I’ve cooked dinner, he’s clearly eaten already, he didn’t let me know he wouldn’t be home for dinner and he hasn’t – I can tell just by looking at him – paid our cheque into the bank. Well, this scene is the embodiment of Hopkinson’s book. Modern, real life marriage.
I’m one of those old-fashioned (but relatively young) people who dash into the Quick Choice section of the library to choose something, anything, to read for their next quick fix. I chose The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs by Christina Hopkinson because it looked like an easy, quick hit. Don’t be deceived by the obvious man versus woman, or more accurately, woman versus man humour, it is laugh-out-loud and, if you’re married, completely believable.
Joel has all the qualities of a great husband. Intelligent, laid back, funny and a great dad to his young children. But that’s not enough for Mary, or – as she calls herself – Scary Mary. She longs for order in her house. Worst of all, she remembers when her house was tidy and her relationship all consuming. At times, she strikes me as a little unhinged and in truth, I find it difficult to like Mary. She hates herself, hates her life and hates her husband. But does she?
As I turn the pages, the book unfolds into much more than just a domestic drama, it’s truly about Mary’s marital discontent. This isn’t chic-lit as such; it’s a little more meaningful. The book exposes crucial challenges facing ambitious women with a family today, and their need to have it all. Like balancing trapeze artists, women teeter on the edge of having it all and having nothing at all. In a recent and frank interview with PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi (why not read it), she said:
“I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all.”
Nooyi said that her daughters wouldn’t necessarily say that she has been a good mum. But in my humble opinion when she wasn’t buying milk for the family fridge, or, wasn’t getting home in time for dinner, she was being an inspirational figurehead for women in business and ranking 13th on the Forbes Power Women list.
Anyway, I digress, Mary wants to work full time on projects that interest her, but she is bogged down with the weight of childcare, cleaning and scheduling her family without any real acknowledgement from her very lovely, but blind sighted husband Joel. And so she starts The List, an excel spreadsheet of Joel’s domestic fails and gives him six months to prove his worth. In her version of a Supernanny Superstar Reward Chart (don’t know what this is? take a look here) instead of keeping track of good deeds, hers keeps a record of all (and there’s lots) Joel’s bad points with a debit system.
Now, I haven’t yet referred to Mary’s friend Mitzi who seems to have it all. Yes, she’s got a stupid name, but she’s also got a beautiful, environmentally friendly, clean house, an alpha-male husband (Joel is less alpha and more femme) and wonderfully quiet children, whilst Mary is up to her arms in crap.
The ending? Well they are together until the bicker end. The ending is not rose tinted, in fact, rather than live happily ever after, I think if Mary would say they lived shabbily ever after, (citing the mess) and Joel would say, crabbily ever after, (Mary’s moaning). But, that’s life. There were times when I found myself nodding in agreement as Mary described Joel’s annoying habits; the tissues, towels and laundry basket being at the heart of them. But there are also real and touching moments within the book which highlight the true stresses and strains of everyday modern marriage and the elusive ‘having it all’.
The bits that were so good I read them out to my husband:
“he is following the classic middle-aged male precedents by getting into military history and so watching endless documentaries about Nazis. All men do this, don’t they?”
Yes they do. Sorry if all of my assumptions based on my husband’s likes and dislikes are a sweeping generalisation, but this is true of the man in my house. Sunday morning consists of grown man shuffling into the kitchen, a milky coffee made in the microwave, rustle the chocolate biscuits open, man sits on rug in front of the TV, TV channel choice is Yesterday, said grown man watches repeat after repeat of (mostly WW2) history. I give him two hours to fester whilst I’m at the gym.
“’do you want a go of our marble run? It goes all the way from the top of the house and it’s taken us two hours to make. Look,’ he says, pointing at the avocado punnet that has been designed as the marbles’ final resting place. ‘All made from recycling’”.
Picture the scene, a cardboard obstacle course runs from the foot, to the top of the stairs – all in the name of fun for the kids. Mary meanwhile is hiding an impromptu guest from the recycling mess. In comes Joel from stage left and invites the guest to ‘have a go’.
“Grilled himself some cutlets and not only didn’t wash up the fat-splattered grill pan, but left it hidden inside the oven so that when I switched it on to do some baked potatoes, the kitchen filled with the acrid stench of twice-cooked lamb fat”.
The reaction when I read this out to my husband? Two minutes of laughter followed by an attempt to subtly open the oven and remove the wok with chip fat oil still in it.
Picture citation: Books_03 Books series Javier Pico, CC-BY-2.0