Wrap your hands around your coffee cup and share a moment with me, friends, while I tell you about “The Cursing Mommy’s Book of Days,” the first novel by writer and humorist Ian Frazier. Maybe you’ve read Mommy’s columns in The New Yorker?
Like her columns, Mommy’s yearlong daybook chronicles her hopes, dreams, and frustrations with some aspect of daily life usually causing her to flip out, curse, break things, or give people the finger. Whether she’s giving advice on making accordion books, organizing the closet, or basic air conditioner maintenance, she soon finds herself with a drink in hand and sprawled out on the floor, spewing paint-peeling expletives.
And, really, after reading about her life, who could blame her?
Mommy has been married for 15 years to Larry, a milquetoast and electronic capacitor enthusiast who keeps boxes of them all over the house. The family’s cats are allergic to Larry, and his snoring drives Mommy bonkers.
Mommy also has two screwed-up sons, Kyle and Trevor. Eight-year-old Kyle “breaks out in hives and faints if you look at him cross-eyed.” Twelve-year-old Trevor’s a wonderful son, Mommy tells herself, but actually he’s a horrible child “going on whatever age you can be sent to prison.”
Trevor’s in therapy and heavily medicated with Eutopophane, Simulose, and Ridiculin. The combination can cause you to grow a second row of teeth. Mommy reminds Trevor repeatedly to avoid committing arson, but finally resorts to a prescription for Dystopial, which contains an anti-arsonic.
Then there’s Mommy’s wretched father. The old reprobate lives in assisted living, where he occasionally assaults other patients. He doesn’t always recognize the people around him, and he can’t feed himself, but he’s considering running a 3K, bench presses 150 pounds, does the splits, and, to Mommy’s horror, will last another 25 years.
Darkly humorous stuff, yes, but this novel is more than a collection of comic bits. It’s tied together with a few plot lines.
First, Mommy finds herself forced to fend off Larry’s client-boss (so named because he happens to be a customer who also owns Larry’s company), who has become smitten with her and has taken to sending text messages and stalking her. Frustrated in his amorous efforts, client-boss cuts Larry’s pay and causes him so much grief that Larry sobs before going to work, until, that is, he hatches a get-rich scheme to buy rare, old capacitors from a Nigerian archbishop.
There’s trouble at their son’s school, too. Voters repealed the levy for Kyle’s school, so students and parents must toil there every Saturday on mandatory Clean the Boiler Room Day, Scrape and Paint Day, and Mandatory Tech Day. When some of the electrical wiring the fourth-graders installed wasn’t up to code, the principal shamed them by having third-graders and their caregivers redo it.
Through it all, Mommy’s deep spirituality helps her manage her troubles: She meditates and does yoga within reach of the liquor cabinet. Scotch is Mommy’s favorite drink. To brighten her day, she goes elsewhere in her mind to a place that’s “marvelous and far away and steeped in leisure.” When that doesn’t work, she considers a pitcher of sangria. She likes other red wines, too, a soupçon of spiced vodka on ice, and special wake-up coffee with 38 percent more caffeine. She enjoys the occasional morning cocktail, too. But doesn’t everyone?
Thank you, friends, for letting me share my thoughts about this novel, which is not only very funny but may actually remind you of the occasional frustrations of your own everyday life. Sit down on the floor with a big scotch and read it.Joseph Peschel, a freelance writer and critic in South Dakota, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his blog at http://josephpeschel.com/HaveWords/.