Excerpt from The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Book of Mother

A Novel

by Violaine Huisman

The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman X
The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2021, 224 pages

    Paperback:
    Oct 2022, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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With Maman in the hospital, we landed first at the home of friends. Our parents had been separated for a number of years by then—something to do with my father chasing a piece of ass, our mother had told us—and my mother had remarried; later on she would explain that it was the disastrous breakup of that new marriage that had triggered her collapse. Our father was not exactly thrilled with the idea of having sole custody of his daughters, so every other option had to be exhausted before arriving at the inevitable conclusion that we couldn't continue to be tossed from one home to the next. My sister and I were happy to be staying with our classmates—or at least, we weren't unhappy with that particular aspect of our fate; on the whole, we were desperate. Our friends were then, are now, and always will be our chosen family, a family we built for ourselves. At twelve and ten, my sister and I suddenly had to manage on our own, without Maman, and our makeshift families would prove to be our greatest support.

Oh fuck off! was one of my mother's refrains, as was ordering us to go fuck ourselves or to fucking leave her alone, to stop fucking around, to understand that she didn't give a fuck about our little moral dilemmas or the concerns of a couple of spoiled brats. Oh will you please fuck off! Who gives a shit about your stupid problems! Maman's diatribes didn't build to that climax—that was their starting point. My sister and I were so often subject to her harangues that from the opening notes, we'd avoid looking each other in the eye; we'd look at our feet instead. Let her have her say, above all, don't look up—that was our rule. And no laughing, not even when her tirades became extravagant to the point of hilarity, to the point where we had to pinch ourselves to keep from giggling. We'd try to appear contrite, repentant, even when she'd hit us with the clincher, the craziest line of all: You do realize, don't you, that I wiped your asses for years! That sentence, a classic in her repertoire, amounted to proof positive that the woman was nuts. How could we take such a declaration seriously? We hadn't asked for any of this, above all, we hadn't asked to be born to such a lunatic! The expression served to remind us that, in fact, we weren't responsible for all of her suffering. These speeches, always delivered with the same feverish indignation, all began more or less the same way:

You self-righteous little shit, if only you knew how much I've done for you! You ingrate! You can't even begin to suspect the number of sacrifices I've made for you and your sister. Who are you to judge me for my lapses? Do you know anyone who's perfect? Who? Just who do you think you are, you sanctimonious little cunt? You do realize, don't you, that I wiped your asses for years? No, obviously not. Well, I couldn't care less about your stupid drama. Deal with your own shit, for once. And we'll see who comes crying for help after you've finally managed to do me in. I do what I can, get it, I do the best I can, and if that's not enough for you, have a look around to see if you can find a better mother. In the meantime, Maman does what she can, Maman is sick and tired, Maman has had it up to here, and Maman is a human being, by the way, and Maman says: Fuck off!

In fact, at the time we didn't realize that for Maman to have changed our diapers, to have wiped our asses, wasn't something to be taken for granted. For Maman, being a good-enough mother didn't come naturally. Given the course of her life, her illnesses, her past, when faced with an infant's incessant demands, with the mind-numbing work and emotional upheavals of motherhood, with the identity crisis that becoming a mother had entailed for her, she could only respond violently, unpredictably, and destructively, but also with all the love that was missing from her own childhood and that she dreamed of giving and receiving in return. That insane love, that almost intolerable passion for and from two brats who were annoying at almost every age; that boundless love that would outlast everything, transcend everything, forgive everything; the love that led her to call us (when we weren't little shits, or bitches, or cunts) my adored darlings whom I love madly—that love kept her going for as long as she could.

Excerpted from The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman. Copyright © 2021 by Violaine Huisman. Reprinted with permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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