Allie Lang is a professional ghostwriter and a perpetually broke single mother to a young boy. Years of navigating her own and America’s cultural definition of motherhood have left her a lapsed idealist. Lana Breban is a high-profile lawyer, economist, and advocate for women’s rights with designs on elected office. She also has a son. Lana and her staff have decided she needs help softening her image in the eyes of the public and that a memoir about her life as a mother will help.
Allie struggles to write Lana’s book as obstacles pile up: not enough childcare, looming deadlines, an unresponsive subject, an ill-defined romantic relationship on the verge of slipping away. Eventually, Lana comes to require far too much of Allie and even her son. Allie’s ability to stand up for herself and ask for all that she deserves will ultimately determine the power that she can wield over her own life.
With the satirical eye of Tom Perrotta’s Mrs. Fletcher and the incisiveness of Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion, acclaimed writer Heidi Pitlor tells a timely, bitingly funny, and insightful story of ambition, motherhood, and class.
Ghostwriter Allie is used to stepping into someone else’s shoes and wearing their identities for months at a time. This level of method acting or getting into her subject’s head is required for pulling off a convincing read in someone else’s voice. Unlike actresses however, Allie never gets to take the credit for her work. Some charismatic headliner or successful business woman gets to put their pretty picture on the cover of her books and watch their faces climb the best seller lists. But Allie does not care for the accolades. She just wants to make a good enough living to support her son Cass.
Writing for condescending and sometimes sexist stars can make her job frustrating at times, but Lana Breban, feminist advocate, might be her most challenging client yet. Known for her blue cropped hair and no-nonsense style, Lana is an immigrant who has made her place in the world and has fought for the rights of other women. Allie looks up to her but as she tries to gather personal information for her book, Lana is not very forthcoming. Now that Lana is running for Senate she is not sure if her brand of motherhood appeals to the masses. As she tries to soften her public image Allie’s humble life and experiences seem more of the stuff that voters would like.
Impersonation asks a lot of questions not just about politics, but how we view women and how we judge mothers. Pitlor does start the conversation about modeling feminism for our younger generation in the hope to raise more compassionate and loving men for tomorrow. In the book, Allie tackles with the limits imposed on children by the genderization of babies. She strives to raise Cass in a gender-neutral setting offering him traditionally “feminine” toys like dolls to play with alongside trucks and cars. She also allows Cass to wear clothing of different types and colors but recognizes that other parents are not so open to little boys in pink. Nor will these parents chastise their children for being cruel. Bad behavior is usually explained away as “boys will be boys”.
Although I do not not think everything about motherhood is a feminist discussion, I do feel that oftentimes people feel they have the right to assert themselves in personal matters that are none of their business.
To breast feed or bottle feed? Which is right is a decision made between that mother and that child. I’ve breastfed four children. One I was able to feed on demand. With another we only lasted two months before switching to formula only. A third child was nibbling on chicken bones by 4 months old. The last took to bottle and breast equally. It made him no nevermind how he was eating as long as he had some type of food in his mouth.
What is the right way to disciple your child? Do you give them time out, take away privileges or use rewards as incentive for good behavior? What works with one child does not always work with the next. Nor does it work with the same child day in and day out. Whether she has one child or five, every mom needs to be quick witted and carry many tools in her arsenal.
Impersonation is in part an ode to the many hats that women wear as we make our way through American society. Daughter. Wife. Single mother. Career woman. Sometimes we wear a multitude of titles and they all carry a heavy weight loaded with the expectations of others. Ultimately, it is up to us to decide what works best for our own happiness and learn to advocate for what we want. Don’t apologize for who you are just because it does not fit the definition of who someone else wants you to be.
Meet the Author
Heidi Pitlor is the author of the novels The Birthdays and The Daylight Marriage. She has been the series editor of The Best American Short Stories since 2007 and the editorial director of Plympton, a literary studio. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Huffington Post, Ploughshares, and the anthologies It Occurs to Me That I Am America: New Stories and Art and Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers. She lives outside Boston.