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Opinion / Analysis / Essays

January 1, 2004

NORTHAMPTON - When Cathi Hanauer read from her best-selling collection of essays in her adopted hometown of Northampton last winter, she had to withhold the title. It was a family show - an annual talent fest - and the emcee thought the word "bitch" just a bit risque.

Hanauer didn't contribute an essay to "The Bitch in The House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage" (William Morrow). Rather, she solicited and edited the essays on subjects ranging from guilt-inducing parental fury to the complex emotions around an open marriage.

Her publisher, said Hanauer, got cold feet just before the title came out. Fears that major bookstores might not put it in their windows, however, proved unfounded. Other than one Texas radio station that insisted on substituting "witch," reviewers (including The Boston Globe) embraced the book and the title. It made the New York Times' best-seller list and for a few minutes, after Hanauer appeared on the Today Show, it hit number one on the sales chart.

Jay Leno quipped from his stage that her book was a companion to "The Bastard on the Couch." Little did Leno know that Hanauer's husband, Daniel Jones, was already working on a sequel and was considering several titles. Leno's stuck. The rest of the title (it is due out next spring) will be "26 Men Try Really Hard to Explain their Feelings about Love, Loss, Fatherhood, and Freedom." It will be about "men dealing with post-feminist women and either adjusting or not," said Jones.

Hanauer and Jones, both 41, moved to Northampton from New York City four years ago with their two children, Phoebe, 8, and Nathaniel, 5. The idea was to escape the cramped apartment and the treadmill of city life. They each had published a novel already, and Jones had a public relations job with the New York City schools while Hanauer was reviewing books for Glamour magazine. She also was struggling to balance her "biological and maternal urges" with her "ambition and financial needs."

In Northampton, they hoped to realize their dream of an egalitarian marriage, but it wasn't working out that way. Things were supposed to get easier, but instead she got angrier and angrier. "I was the one with the knack, I was the one who knew what the kids needed, I was the one who held the puzzle of family life in my head all the time," said Hanauer. Plus she was doing a book column for Mademoiselle, trying to read the 100 books delivered to her door each month, and reviewing 10 of them.

"Dan and I were going to split the domestic stuff, we were trying to be teammates, but I was overwhelmed by the juggling act that my life had become," said Hanauer. That generated anger, much of which she took out on her husband because "he was there."

"I feel like such a bitch," Hanauer would e-mail her friends, many of whom saw themselves in her dilemma. So she started gathering essays. She is feeling better now that her book is selling well, she says with characteristic humor. She can afford to work less and tend to her children more.

Their house, a smallish 1899 Victorian, is in a residential area a block from Smith College. One of their neighbors taps the sugar maples on the street and has a sugar shack in his backyard.

This fall, they busted out the walls of their kitchen, extending it 7 feet into the backyard and 12 feet to the side. During construction, they had a hotplate, microwave, and jury-rigged sink in the living room, so they reverted to the ordering-in they had become used to in New York. Chinese and Mexican are their favorites.

On weekends, the family often goes biking or walks in the forest.

Earlier in life, Hanauer wrote "Relating," the advice column in 17 Magazine. Now she's got two kids in a funky charter school, lives in her "dream house," is working on her second novel, and collaborates with a husband she loves on a project she cares deeply about. Jones helped edit the essays in "Bitch" and Hanauer is reciprocating with "Bastard."

What's she's learned is that "women are angry and men are baffled," said Hanauer, adding, "but the men in his book are not bastards any more than the women in mine are bitches."

All articles © Eric Goldscheider

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