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August 18, 2015

A Window into the Future: A WINDOW OPENS by Elisabeth Egan


One of my favorite daydreams consists of picturing my future self. These reveries usually feature the same idealized-yet-somewhat-attainable portrait: Me as a 40-year-old high-powered book editor, living a comfortable life in the suburbs with a financially successful spouse, three kids and a dog. I have great friends, a strong relationship with both my parents, and manage to read a new book every week. It’s a portrait of my life that meets every criteria of success that I have ever had for myself, an idealized picture that I fully think would make me quite satisfied.

So when I began reading Glamour editor Elisabeth Egan’s debut novel A WINDOW OPENS**, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the protagonist, Alice Pearse, was living the exact future that I’d always dreamed of: a middle-aged book worm making a home in the suburbs with her loving husband and kids; a strong woman who was successful in all aspects of her life. I was enthralled --- this was the smart and indulgent read that I’d been craving. But as the narrative slowly unfolded, it became quite evident that Alice’s life was not the literary fairy tale that it appeared. Yet this bubble-bursting realization didn’t stop me from loving A WINDOW OPENS any less; if anything, it made me love to the novel even more.

When A WINDOW OPENS begins, Alice Pearse is truly living the proverbial dream life. Working part-time as books editor at the women’s magazine You (Glamour’s fictional equivalent), Alice is able to spend her days divided by reading, writing book recommendations, driving her eldest child to swim practice, and organizing bake sales. But when her husband, Nicholas, quits his high-powered, lucrative junior partnership at a law firm, Alice must return to working full-time, assuming the role of her family’s primary breadwinner. In true fairy tale fashion, Alice uses her incredible publishing connections to find an amazing job almost immediately. The position is with Scroll, a new bookselling venture that provides a luxury book-buying experience, complete with complimentary scones and first editions of Dickens and Twain available for purchase. Alice’s role is specifically to read widely and then recommend books that Scroll can add to its inventory. Talk about a dream job. But when Alice’s job begins to consume her life, her harmonious family life disintegrates around her, and she quickly learns that the real world isn’t the stuff of fairy tales.

A WINDOW OPENS is by no means a masterpiece. Propelled by the day-to-day life of a suburban middle-aged woman, the novel can easily be classified as highbrow chick-lit and most definitely won’t be compelling to readers who are not fanatical about books. Its conflicts are predictable, but that doesn’t diminish the pleasure that a 20something bookworm can experience while reading it. A WINDOW OPENS is filled with the little references to great books that any devotee of literature loves to indulge in. For example, when describing the audience of a debut author reading, Alice observes them, and herself for that matter, through the following literary lens: “The cozy upstairs room was already abuzz with intelligent-looking people who looked like they’ve been born in a John Cheever story, educated in a Donna Tartt novel, and now lived the full Jonathan Safran Foer life --- or so said their tote bags, touting food co-ops and imperiled far-flung outposts of the New York Public Library.”

This description is exactly how I had always imagined my future self and my imaginary colleagues. (Although my education was definitely more along the lines of PREP meets THE MARRIAGE PLOT, and I’m definitely in the Nicole Krauss camp.) It is the little descriptions and side comments specifically referencing books --- a rant extolling the merits of Virginia Woolf; a magnet on Alice’s fridge asking WWHD, or What Would Hamlet Do --- that make A WINDOW OPENS a must-read for bookwormish 20somethings looking for their next non-guilty pleasure.

Spending 300 plus pages with Alice Pearse in A WINDOW OPENS was a literary experience that I soon won’t forget. Journeying with her through failures and triumphs has only made me even surer of the type of woman that I want to be in 15 years. Smart, strong, compassionate and well read, Alice Pearse is the perfect role model for every young woman who, like me, thought that Bridget Jones was too obsessed with her boy problems, or has grown out of identifying with Matilda.


**A WINDOW OPENS will be available at a bookstore near you Tuesday, August 25th.