Archive for the ‘maternal instincts’ Tag

Insensitive and haunting parenting rehab   Leave a comment

When considering what I know about mothering, I must thank my mother first and foremost. I may not be the stellar student, but she is the exceptional teacher. With this in mind, I found Jessamine Chan’s ironically-titled The School for Good Mothers heart-wrenching. Chan’s writing evokes a range of emotions related to the subject of child rearing, neglect and relationships. The reader is left with much to consider.

Many women have neither strong role models, nor good maternal instincts. Both are true for Frida, mother of a toddler, whose limits are tested thanks to a lack of sleep, her job and the recent separation from her husband and his relationship with a younger woman.

One day, Frida leaves her young daughter, Harriet, home alone to run an errand. Frida is gone for two hours.

Of course, this is irresponsible and unforgivable. However, what evolves is also unacceptable. Frida is subjected to 24-hour surveillance and limited supervised visits with Harriet.

The only way for Frida to be reunited with Harriet is to undergo a year-long program designed to teach her, and other mothers, to be a better parent. Here’s where things go off the rails. Some of the women’s infractions are horrendous, others accidental. The mothers are incarcerated and given robotic dolls on which to hone their skills. The staff is unsympathetic and the parenting courses are often unreasonable (ie., speaking “motherese”).

Chan’s characters are vividly portrayed. Their losses are palpable. Child abandonment warrants repercussion, but not through draconian means.

The School for Good Mothers

Four Bookmarks

Simon & Schuster, 2022

324 pages

Serving Time   Leave a comment

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Author Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room is a strip joint in San Francisco, where Romy Hall once gave lap dances to support herself and her young son, Jackson. That’s before she’s sent to prison in California’s desolate Central Valley, where she’s sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for a crime that’s not immediately explained.

Most of the narration is Romy’s as she recounts her childhood, teenage years and life working as a stripper. These reflections are interspersed with her confinement. It may be almost impossible to think about women in prison without Orange is the New Black coming to mind. However, Kushner’s cell scenes are harsh, unsympathetic and dismal. Nonetheless, Romy is befriended by Sammy, a veteran inmate, Conan, a transsexual who’s very convincing as a male, and Gordon Hauser, a teacher who recognizes Romy’s intelligence and beauty.

A few of the chapters are narrated by these friends. Doc, a crooked cop, imprisoned miles away, also provides a voice. Yet, it’s Romy with her sense of humor, dismay and maternal instincts who commands the pages. She has had to leave Jackson, in the care of her mother, which causes a number of complications for Romy.

Kushner blends pathos with the harsh reality of prison life. As one of the guards states, not just to Romy, but others, “… your situation is due one hundred percent to choices you made and action you took.” As we learn more about Romy and the other characters, it’s evident this is not entirely true.

The Mars Room
Four Bookmarks
Scribner, 2018
338 pages