Sunday, February 6, 2011

Walking with Elephants by Karen S. Bell

My posting for this wonderful novel comes a bit late. A terrible flu has struck my family which led for at least two of us at a time to be ill for the past week and a half. I had a high fever for four days myself. Add to that the Blizzard of 2011 (we’re right on the Lake Michigan shore and got a lot of snow!) and some strange happenings at my work, and therefore, not much activity has been happening on my blog as of late.

Walking with Elephants is a novel that really spoke to me. Suze Hall is a middle aged woman that has hit a crisis in her life. Her three children are all in school, with the eldest in college. Her husband, Bob, is a college professor. Suze herself is back in the workplace as an editor after being out of the game for years as a stay-at-home mother. Suze finds herself stressed out to the max. Her nemesis at work, Wanda, has just been promoted to be her boss. Suze is still expected to have dinner on the table and to perform all of her stay-at-home Mom duties, although she is now a full time worker. Bob has decided to take a six-month sabbatical in Australia without asking Suze, and Suze’s college sweetheart, David, has suddenly made reappearance in her life. Will Suze be able to navigate life as a modern day woman and be able to pull it all together?

I loved this book and thought that it perfectly summed up many of the problems that I face and that I know a lot of my fellow mothers also face. The novel is actually set in the 1990’s and Suze is actually more of a contemporary of my mother who was also born in 1950’s, married in the 1970’s, and had teenage children in the 1990’s. That led to some differences between how things are handled in marriages I think, but the problems are mostly the same.

First of all, what about Bob? Bob is a loving husband, but he is also a clueless husband. After getting home from working all day, Bob sits down on the couch with a beverage in one hand, and a remote in the other and relaxes while he shouts to Suze for dinner. Suze has also just returned from work and tries to hurry up and get something ready for dinner for her hungry husband and kids who provide no assistance. All I can say is thank goodness I am married to a modern caring and sensitive man who at least takes the baby while I cook dinner and knows that if he shouts for it while watching TV, he is likely not going to get any dinner. Are any of you married to a “Bob?”

Bob also is clueless about Suze when he takes a sabbatical in Australia and leaves his family for six months. It seems like such a major decision should have been a family decision instead of a personal one. Suze feels that way, but doesn’t seem to be able to tell Bob this and how she finds her own career to be important too until Bob is already gone. Bob and Suze have major communication problems, but luckily they both work on it throughout the course of the novel.

Suze feels the inner turmoil that most modern mothers face. She wanted to be a good mother so she stayed home with her children, but her career suffered from this fact. In her work place, Suze is targeted by Wanda, a woman who chose career over family. Wanda does not appreciate the fact that Suze does well at her job and has managed to have a family. She switches Suze to “art” something Suze knows nothing about in hopes that Suze will fail. Elliot, Suze’s best friend at work, tries to help Suze out, but she is able to help herself when she runs into David, her ex-college boyfriend who has become a world renowned artist. With Bob gone in Australia, will Suze be able to handle meeting the love of her life again?

Suze also has a great relationship with her friend Marcia. Marcia appears to have it all, except for the fact that she hasn’t found her own true love. Suze is able to talk about her problems and about problems that all women face with Marcia.

Walking with Elephants not only has a great plot, but I love the style of writing in this book. Karen S. Bell has a fun and witty style of writing. I couldn’t put this book down and whipped through it quickly.

It also spoke personally to me as I have a hard time trying to make everything go. I want to stay home with my kids, but I also love being an engineer. I work part-time and there never seems to be enough time in the day to be able to focus on being a mother or on being a top-notch engineer. Engineering is a man’s world and the only few women on top in my career are women without families. Sometimes I have been made to feel that I’ve thrown my career away by having kids, but on the same topic, you get from the other side that you are a bad mother for not focusing totally on your kids and staying at home. You can’t win!

On that topic, I love this quote in Walking with Elephants, “What if along with this visibility, the role of mother was considered just as vital; just as important? What if motherhood was a valid experience to put on a resume? What if telecommuting made it possible to stay at home and be an executive? What if women could put their children in schools near their work? Nursed them in their offices? What if women were given a paid maternity leave of two-years so they cold imprint their moral character on their children and still keep their jobs? . . . . And countless other innovations that would be created from women’s needs and wants?”
Go Suze Hall – I want these innovations! I thought my work was great letting me work part-time from home, but only this week I was fired and not fired on the same day solely because I was a part-time person. A few years ago all part-time people were fired, and they all were mothers who had gone down to part-time to be able to spend more time with their children. I’ve also realized I won’t be advancing in my career until I am full-time again. Have any of you faced similar problems and situations?

Overall, I really loved this book. I think it was a great story and it brought up great topics. I think it would be a great book-club book.

This book review is part of the TLC Book Tours.

Book Source: A review copy from Literary Road Press. Thank-you!


  1. This sounds like a really interesting book. I wanted to comment on your thoughts about throwing your career away by having kids. I personally feel like there is way too much emphasis put on careers in the United States. It seems like if you need to take some time off it's the end of the world, but life isn't about work, it's about life. It's easy to say that but I also think it's true.

  2. Ash - you bring up a good point. I guess my problem is that while I do love being home with my kids, I also really like being an engineer. Being a woman it seems like you are evil if you want to have a career and not stay home with the kids, but to professional people, its terrible if you don't advance your career and you stay home with your kids. It's a no win siutation!

  3. This sounds just fascinating! Thank you for the review.

  4. First off, I'm so glad you're feeling better! My family has been sick off and on for months and it is miserable, isn't it?!

    Second, I'm so glad you enjoyed this book. I think that any working mom could relate to it ... I know I certainly can. I'm really looking forward to reading it myself even though it is not the kind of book I normally choose to read.

    Thanks for being a part of this tour!