The Year of Magical Thinking was Joan Didion‘s book about the death of her husband, novelist and journalist John Gregory Dunne. Blue Nights is about the life, illness and death of her daughter, Quintana, and it’s a read to set any parent thinking.
I was particularly struck by the chapter that begins: “I do not know many people who think they have succeeded as parents”, because I don’t either.
Fictional failures can bring some comfort, so I’ve been idly compiling “My List of Books Featuring Parents who are Worse than Me”.
Top (mostly because it was read most recently) would be The Family Fang. Camille and Caleb Fang are performance artists who use their children as props in their work. Buster and Annie, or Child A and Child B as they are known when taking part in the always confronting and often cruel situations their parents construct, find adult life something of a struggle. The adult Fangs are fiends, but Kevin Wilson doesn’t make it all too bleak.
Next is We need to talk about Kevin, both because it’s a great if painful read, and because I saw Lionel Shriver at a Writers Festival a few years ago. Kevin has shot nine people at his high school, and his mother is writing about it to her estranged husband. Using such an event in a novel turned Shriver into an expert in school shootings, at least in the minds of the journalists who would contact her for comments after each horrible incident. Who is to blame? Shriver is skilled enough to show, not tell.
Coraline ends up with an uncomfortable number of parents when she enters the identical flat next door. The Other Mother is so much better than Coraline’s busy real mother, distracted by her computer. The Other Mother has time for Coraline; it’s just a shame she wants to replace Coraline’s eyes with black buttons. The incomparable Neil Gaiman is at his very best here.
Any advances on this crew as the worst parents in fiction of this or any other year?