Sunday, May 13, 2007

Crazy Mom Novels

I love books that have crazy mothers in them. One of my favorites is Anywhere But Here by Mona Simpson. The mother isn't exactly crazy, but she's self-absorbed and flighty and obsessed with steak -- a great, unforgettable character. Do people still read this book? I think of it as the Jennifer Jason Leigh of novels -- its excellence ought to have transcended the hype it got in the 80's, but somehow, it didn't.

A much less charming mother is the one in Elfriede Jelinek's The Piano Teacher. She refers to her thirty-eight-year-old daughter as "the child," and is hellbent on controlling, thus destroying, her offspring's life. She's just awful -- the embodiment of purely selfish love.

Portnoy's mother Sophie is overbearing and overpowering; Garp's mother rapes a dying soldier in order to get pregnant. The mother in Housekeeping kills herself and leaves her daughters to be raised by a succession of relatives. And of course the list of memoirs with nutty mothers is even longer -- Mary Karr's Liar's Club springs to mind first.

When I was a teenager, a male friend of mine told me I should consider never having kids, because every single mother he knew was crazy. I remember being a bit startled by the truth of that: most mothers are at least a little bit crazy. But think about it -- you're going through life as an autonomous individual, and then suddenly from your body emerges another autonomous individual whom you love more than anything in the world but who, frankly, can't wait to move out and get his own apartment. Christ! Maybe I need to be writing a crazy mother novel myself.


Anonymous said...

Great post.

Amy Tan's various Chinese mothers in Joy Luck Club are also always entertaining.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm, I thought you already were writing a crazy mother novel...