Sunday, August 09, 2009

Bad Mother: a chronicle of maternal crimes, minor calamities, and occasional moments of grace by Ayelet Waldman

I have a recurring fantasy where I become really good friends with novelist Michael Chabon. In it, the Pulitzer prize winner and I hang out and talk comic books and music and literature, both lofty and less so. He not only lets me read early versions of his next brilliant novel but he asks for my feedback. I am supportive but honest, saying things like "Come now, Michael--Jews in Alaska? That'll never sell," which he appreciates. Then we have a beer and watch an episode of Firefly on the big screen TV he bought with his Pulitzer prize winnings. I become Uncle Reed to his kids, Zelda, Groucho, Fanny and Shmuley.

Sadly, after reading Bad Mother, this
book blogger's fever dream has been dashed.

Starting with the fact that I live in Ohio and he lives in Berkeley,
I knew chances were slim, but, after reading his wife's collection of essays, I realize this won't come to pass because I don't think Ayelet Waldman and I will get along. At all. Ever.

Waldman, a novelist and former attorney, got in hot water a few years back when she published a piece in the New York Times declaring she loved her husband more than her children. The aftermath was screeching
outrage and it ended in Trial By Oprah; Waldman actually went on the Big O's show and defended herself (admirably, I understand, which makes sense since she was a lawyer).

Here she writes about how difficult it is to be the Good Mother that I guess all moms feel the pressure to try to be. I'm neither a mother or a parent but it's obvious, even to me, that aspiring to that lofty ideal can only make a tough job even tougher. So where do we part company? How about where Waldman writes about being the mom
who tried to have dodgeball done away with at her kids school. The mom who is sure her kids are not only gifted but exceptionally so. Oh, right. THAT mom. Reed Next will have no truck with THAT mom.

My fantasy aside, the
unwavering and unflinching honesty it took to write these pieces--about her diagnosis with bipolar disorder, her youthful promiscuity, her decision to end a pregnancy and other painfully frank pieces--has stayed with me long after I finished the book. She's not shying away from anything here and if she is holding anything back, there can't be much left. If there is--"hoo hoo!" as they used to say on the old Jack Benny show.

There were times when the "oh, I'm such a bad mother" motif got a little tiresome but
I was quite captivated by the book. Much to my surprise, there were places I saw myself. Despite my belief that she and I will not make good neighbors, I admire her writing and appreciate the remarkable candor she brings to these pieces. The book is a keeper.

As for Michael, I can only imagine the pals we could have been.

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