All fiction readers can easily--perhaps too easily--come up with a list of their favorite bad mother characters. There are hundreds of them on our bookshelves, dating back to ancient Greece.
Strangely enough, I can't ever recall a customer approaching me when I was a frontline bookseller and asking: "Can you recommend some great reads about really bad mothers?"
My all-time favorite bad fictional mom is tabloid journalist Hilary Winshaw in Jonathan Coe's malicious and delightful What a Carve Up! (released in the U.S. as The Winshaw Legacy). She's just one of the rotten limbs on a distinctly unscrupulous, Thatcher-era upper-class family tree.
In a great scene, Hilary is interviewed by a magazine about how she handles being a career woman and a new mother. She exults in public exclamations of maternal bliss ("But one glimpse of Josephine and it all seemed worthwhile. It was an amazing feeling.") for the reporter, but also has this brief exchange with her child's nanny:
Hilary stared malevolently at her daughter, watching her face crumple as she gathered breath for another scream.
"Now what's the matter with it?" she said.
"Just wind, I think," said the nanny.
Hilary fanned herself with the menu. "Well can't you take it outside for a while? It's showing us up in front of everybody."
As a maternal antidote to recollections of that scene, I've been monitoring my e-mail inbox for bookseller e-newsletters extolling the nicer side of motherhood, as well as a few intriguing gift options.
Green Apple Books, San Francisco, Calif., suggested buying a gift card for mom "and send her in to Green Apple this Sunday. Order online and we'll have the gift card waiting here. Further, we'll pour her a mimosa (on the house, of course), and help her pick out something good to read."
The Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, Mass., recommended giving "her something more interesting than your tweet updates to read."
Books & Company, Oconomowoc, Wis., noted that it had "received our first order of chocolate bars from Waukesha's own Indulgence Chocolatiers. Yummy! Just in time for Mother's Day. A few books and a bar of chocolate would make the perfect gift (moms, I think it is okay to forward this e-mail to those responsible for the gift giving in your life)."
What would your mother really like for her special day? Forbes reported that "what dads and kids think moms want for Mother's Day doesn't actually match up." A Harris Interactive survey in April found that 48% of women want a spa day, while 72% of men thought their moms wanted flowers.
My own choice was easier this year. Since my mother is allergic to flowers and chocolate, I opted for an e-reader (don't tell her!) because of the adjustable type sizes. My choice is apparently on the crest of a new, post-Hallmark mom tech-wave. The Harris survey discovered that technology is gaining serious ground on flora in the Mother's Day gift race, with 30% of women saying they'd prefer a smartphone or tablet.
The e-newsletter monitoring strategy worked, by the way. I was able to shed my fictional bad mother obsession, especially after reading this nice story from McLean & Eakin Bookstore, Petoskey Mich.:
Last week, there was a darling little boy in the store with his mother. If he couldn't see her, he would say, "Mom?... Mom?... Mom?" until he could see her again. It was darling for about 5 minutes and darling ended when the volume of the question rose over a certain number of decibels... and until he had to show her every. single. thing. he. saw. regardless of the conversation she was having with a friend. After that, I started thinking, "How long is this kid going to depend on his mother? Seriously, he's like 5 already. Can't he grow up?" I really wanted to share the story with my mom and have a good laugh over it. She's the only one who really gets my humor about these situations... wait... How long am I going to depend on my mother? Seriously, I'm like 35 already. Can't I grow up? No, probably not. I am constantly trying to show my mother books too. She and the mother in our store had something in common: patience. I can't even count the number of times I've told my mother about a book I'm reading, and I'm sure she was bored stiff, but she has always acted interested. Just like dance recitals, cheerleading camp, band, and choir. My god. The choir recitals must have been the worst. In honor of my mom, I will list some of the books SHE'S loved lately.