Dysfunctional families are nothing new. The family in Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas, however, is. Their oldest daughter Rose ran away a year ago, escaping their mother after having an abortion that the mom terrorized her over. And the younger daughter is in a mental institution after having stabbed her younger brother with a knife while high.
Or so we – and they – all think. The book is told from the alternating chapter perspective of Violet, a sixteen year old trying to find oblivion, and Will, her twelve year old brother recently diagnosed with both autism spectrum disorder and epilepsy. Josephine, their mother, is trying to hold the family together after admitting Violet to Fallkill, an inpatient mental hospital, to keep her from harming Will and Douglas, the father, is suspected of having an affair.
To the outside world, they have always been the perfect family, with Rose the talented actress who won all the leads in local plays and Will who is the gifted child. Violet skated by, and Josephine and Douglas appear to be your protypical happily married couple. Once Rose disappears, that veneer begins to crack, especially internally.
Josephine turns her love and attention to Will instead of Rose, but this isn’t the kind of love a mother would typically give her child. It’s understandable that she pulled her child out of school the previous year after he’d been bullied by his teacher and then students after Josephine went after the school district repeatedly before finally having Will diagnosed with epilepsy and ASD. She fears for his safety with the lack of carpeted surfaces if Will were to have an epileptic seizure, but only later does it come to light that it took going to three doctors before she was given either diagnosis.
Violet knows she was high on seeds when she came home the night Will was attacked. She remembers throwing her dish of mushroom risotto into the dishwasher uneaten after her mother readily admits that she used beef stock in the vegetarian dish and then raiding the fridge for any vegetable she could find to make her own dinner. She remembers picking up the knife to chop the veggies, but she doesn’t remember attacking her brother, though she knows she must have.
As the book continues, the “eccentricities” of Josephine become more and more apparent, and her manipulations and actions less and less understandable. It’s easy to see how seductive and easy it would be to fall prey to her machinations, as all three children – and Douglas – have. Rose apparently woke up and got out, and Violet begins to understand more of what’s happening while she’s at Fallkill, while Douglas also starts to have his eyes opened to what’s happening in his own house.
I will say that this is by far the most disturbing book I’ve read in a long time. It gave me the creeps, but yet it drew me in. I stayed up until 1:30am to read it. I felt dirty after reading it, horrified by how easily a hidden evil can fester within a family but fascinated by the characters and just waiting to see how it all plays out.
Mother, Mother is the first novel by Koren Zailckas, but she’s previously written two other memoirs about her history of drinking and anger – Smashed and Fury. Not only does she know her material from personal experience, but Zailckas draws an amazing portrait of a family. I was repelled by Josephine but drawn into the book so much more than I had expected. I am definitely looking forward to another novel from Zailckas and can’t wait to read it.
Check out what other reviewers thought over at the TLC Book Tours page for Mother, Mother.
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Written by Michelle whose life was thankfully nothing like that of the family in “Mother, Mother.” Though she sometimes fears being the “mean mom” she knows she’d never go anywhere near the disease that was Josephine. See how she interacts with her wee ones on her blog Honest & Truly! or follow along with her on Twitter where she is also @HonestAndTruly.
kerrie mayans says
I live a fairly normal life so novels like this remind me of the resilience of the human spirit and how people can overcome growing up in such a messed up household.
What fascinates me is how they can live a normal life after experiencing this adversity.
The books just sounds fascinating.
Something about living through trauma like this just pulls me in!
I love something that can give me chills and make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Whether it’s a book or a movie, I want to be drawn in, afraid of what’s under the bed, afraid to look out the window, for fear of what will be looking back at me! Something that makes me lock my front door and afraid to be alone. Or something that just creeps me out, because the story is so full of evil.
Heather J says
Repelled by the mom and compelled to keep reading … what a combination!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour!
Anita Yancey says
I’m not sure what draws me to disturbing novels, but I think it might be that reading them always makes me feel better about my own life, knowing things could be a lot worse.
Tracy Robertson says
I didn’t have a “perfect childhood” but books like this make it seem more ideal than it was. I’ve always liked “dark” books, they make me feel like whatever I am going through at the time isn’t that bad after all, and they are just extremely interesting. Believe it or not, I heard of Mother, Mother about a week ago & I have it on my must read list.
I like them because then I don’t feel like I’m doing such a bad job with my kids. I like validation.