7) Maid by Stephanie Land
The subtitle of this non-fiction memoir is ‘Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive’, which gives you a pretty strong indication of what this is about. Stephanie Land is a single mother in America with little or no family network to support her, which means she raises her daughter Mia whilst juggling a role as a cleaner and trying to cling on to the hope that there might be an exit to her dream (college / to be a writer).
What happens, in a sense, is not surprising (it reminded me a lot of having read Evicted about the US housing system) but it carries no less power for that. Mia’s father is abusive, and soon Land is in homeless shelters, low-rent accommodation and buried in a system which seems to have been designed to make it all more difficult for those with the least. And the threat of a custody battle is there at all times.
She also gets the only jobs she can, which are cleaning jobs – and this is where the book gives an insight not only into the gruelling reality of cleaning other people’s houses, but also into the strange and sad lives of those who live in them. From the woman who secretes cigarettes in the freezer to the man caring for his life partner, these stories add depth and poignancy to Land’s own circumstances and “journey”.
The aspects that stayed with me were the way the constant anxiety and scarcity affect Land but also how, in combination with the system, they serve as a barrier to anyone who wants to progress. In the end, it is only by an unfortunate / fortunate accident (literally) that things shift minorly for the better.
Barack Obama called the book: “A single mother’s personal, unflinching look at America’s class divide, a description of the tightrope many families walk just to get by, and a reminder of the dignity of all work” which is not a bad summary. I’d add, that purely in reading terms, it’s a compelling tale and Land writes with power and precision and no little insight,