Lady of the Snakes Can a woman have both a fulfilling career and a storybook family life? If you're looking for answers to this wearisome question, check out the… Lady of the Snakes Can a woman have both a fulfilling career and a storybook family life? If you're looking for answers to this wearisome question, check out the… 2008-01-14 Fiction History Harcourt
Book Review

Lady of the Snakes (2008)

LADY OF THE SNAKES In Rachel Pastan's deft novel, a woman balances career and family
LADY OF THE SNAKES In Rachel Pastan's deft novel, a woman balances career and family
EW's GRADE
A-

Details Release Date: Jan 14, 2008; Writer: Rachel Pastan; Genres: Fiction, History; Publisher: Harcourt

Can a woman have both a fulfilling career and a storybook family life? If you're looking for answers to this wearisome question, check out the manifestos by everyone from Betty Friedan to Caitlin Flanagan. If you want to see the dilemma smartly dramatized in the experience of an appealing, intelligent heroine, read Rachel Pastan's crisp novel, Lady of the Snakes.

Jane Levitsky is a literature professor whose subject is a fictional 19th-century Russian, Grigory Karkov. Jane is particularly intrigued by Karkov's tempestuous relationship with his diary-writing wife, Masha, a tragic figure who died in her 30s after bearing him six children. Juicy career-making secrets lurk in the marital saga of the Karkovs, and Jane is poised to unearth them.

Jane is living out her own domestic saga, which includes a resentful husband and a needy baby daughter. Their house is a mess; dinner consists of jarred sauce on spaghetti; their first babysitter quits; the next is a little too alluring. Can Jane crack the Karkov mystery and keep her family together? This setup is patently contrived; not so Pastan's spot-on depiction of Jane's struggle, ''moving from one self to another, from professor to mother, like a silvery fish heaving itself onto land to become a frog.'' To her credit, Pastan makes it seem well worth the effort. A-

Originally posted Jan 11, 2008 Published in issue #974 Jan 18, 2008 Order article reprints