CLASS by Stephanie Land rating: four stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐.
To read CLASS (Atria/Simon & Schuster, November 7, 2023), and Stephanie Land‘s prior book MAID, is to re-live the second-worst period of my life, from 2001 to 2009. The worst period was my first marriage, 1990 to 2001, but poverty and the family court system have a way of combining to be nearly as bad as an intolerable marriage.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for sending this book to me for review consideration. All opinions are my own.
I ground my teeth through these works of nonfiction. I think I now have less tooth enamel. I took frequent breaks to play Zelda games on Switch.
In CLASS, which picks up where MAID left off, Land spills a poor single mom’s pain, loneliness, shame, disappointment, and hopelessness onto the pages as she negotiates obstacles like child care, dating, and finding time for college homework. I know it all, all too well. Like Land, I have given the kids all the supper, and lain awake hungry at night.
Aaaaaand the ever-present self-doubt. Land struggles with the question: “Am I even worthy of a chance at something better?”
CLASS relates the kind of burnout that is burned out so hard that the last speck of ash has blown away–and yet Stephanie must keep up the fight, because to lose at this rigged game within these humiliating systems is to lose as a mother to Emilia: the one loss she cannot bear. Her only recourse is to institutions that pile on more pressure: the legal system, the welfare system, and the biggest gamble of all, higher education.
Mostly, single motherhood is unremitting hell–albeit shot through with the beauty that children bring, like sunlight shining through lace–and Land is truly on her own, with no parents and an ex who delights in breaking his promises and foiling her plans. Please let Land take you on this journey. If you’ve been there, think of it as a crash course in compassion for the women who are stuck there still. CLASS is a miracle story. You’ll be astonished that Land made it out of poverty and became a writer at all. I still can’t believe I escaped and became a librarian.
NICKEL AND DIMED (2001) by Barbara Ehrenreich (1941-2022) recounts her sociological experiment earning survival wages at various jobs, including as a maid in Maine. BAIT AND SWITCH (2005) is another brilliant Ehrenreich expose of hanging onto white-collar middle class status by the skin of your teeth amid economic brutality. I wish I could say that things have improved since Ehrenreich wrote her books, but since the pandemic, the bad trends Ehrenreich described have accelerated, and even more people are even more trapped in the cycle of poverty or barely managing not to fall into it.
EVICTED by Matthew Desmond (2017). Ouch. An absolute revelation and such a painful book. And rents just keep going up, and more and more people are evicted. Land’s description of how many homes she had tried to make for her daughter Emilia took me right back to Desmond’s harsh scenes of housing insecurity in Milwaukee.
What I’m reading right now:
RANDOM ACTS OF MEDICINE by Anupam B. Jena and Christopher Worsham (Doubleday/Penguin Random House, July 11, 2023).