Maid by Stephanie Land

I am not quite sure why I should feel so guilty about not liking this book – probably it is middle class, liberal guilt at not feeling sorry for a woman who is scraping by with not a lot and who is also a single mother. But there are several things that really irritated me.

The first time I was irritated was when I discovered that she was 28 years old when she became pregnant. How had she managed not to be pregnant in all the previous years? Why did it happen then? Why wasn’t she being extra careful because the man was abusive? She might have given us some background around the situation to help us understand. It felt a little like she was hiding something.

The second element was that she hated it when people were judgemental about her, quite rightly. Poverty does not equal laziness or lack of ability, all it means is a lack of money and often no resources to fall back on. Nothing else. But then she goes on to judge other people, her parents included for not caring about her, not ringing on her birthday, her mother being more overweight than ever, her clients and their habits. It is right to be judgmental about the benefits system and child credit and how hard it is made to obtain them and she does briefly explore this but not in any depth. I know Land was writing her story but in truth, her story became a little boring.

I was unclear about what Land wanted from society if it isn’t what she was getting. How do we help people in poverty find a way to live their lives with stability and resources? I am imagining that education is her way out even though she has to go into debt to achieve it. Decent, affordable housing for people on benefits would be another route; housing where a child can play and parents do not need to worry about their child’s health. Child care, I presume, although she was accessing support with that.

I was irritated by her decision making: to stop on a motorway (or an American equivalent) for a toy. We all know how dangerous that is. I also knew as soon as she mentioned that she had a car that it would break down in some way and put her in more jeopardy – this was a tad predictable. Moving in with a man she had known after four months who turned up for a date in his work clothes. Come on! It was doomed to fail. Allowing an abusive man access to his daughter at weekends and holidays. Really? She comments regularly that she can hear men in the background when she rings her daughter when she stays with her father and she doesn’t know who they are, alerting us to the fact that her daughter could be in danger but she doesn’t put a stop to it.

The saddest thing about this book is that I think it is an intergenerational problem that is never explored. Her father has no money. In fact when he comes to pick her up after her car accident, he has no money to buy fuel – he does however, turn up to get her. Her mother now lives in Europe and seems to be living with at the very least a controlling man who does not want Land in his life. Her father is abusive towards the woman he was living with so there are many things that are being repeated here.

Land also drops into the book that she looks different to everyone else and that she is heavily tattooed. Now I don’t want to stereotype here about why women might do this, but she never explains why. I was left overall with the feeling that there was much more to this story than was told and although I am very interested in how people ‘level up’ to use the government’s parlance, I can’t bring myself to read her next book.

Postscript following book club

I didn’t change my mind following book club about this book but it did clarify a few things for me. I suspect the book was written to ‘educate’ those Americans who think if you are on benefits you must be lazy but I doubt whether those people would pick this book up and read it. They might watch it on Netflix. I resent the fact that someone thinks I need to be educated about this. This is not a book that everyone needs to read.

I actually thought it was poverty porn. I am standing on the outside looking in at the horror of this person’s life but nothing is asked of me. The book had a narrow focus – mother and baby – and I suspect this was what the ‘intense editing’ process was about. For me, there was a much bigger story here.

So, what do you do with this knowledge now that you have read the book? I am no clearer about that.

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