Reading Group Center

Moms Behaving Badly

Marion Palm ran out on the check at a restaurant and left her daughters in the shampoo aisle of a CVS. She committed a crime and, rather than face the consequences, she’s leaving her family for good. The protagonist of Emily Culliton’s debut novel, The Misfortune of Marion Palm, misses her daughters, but the longer she’s away, the more she relishes the opportunity to reinvent herself free from familial obligations. Marion will obviously not be winning mother of the year, and yet, in this darkly satirical lambast of modern motherhood, we find ourselves rooting for her.

Being a mother is one of the hardest jobs out there, and we empathize with moms who struggle to reach the unattainable ideal of picture-perfect parenting. We know that moms often have to make tough, unpopular decisions in order to do what’s best for their families and that sometimes doing your best means just barely keeping your head above water. It’s understandable to need some “me time,” to put yourself first once in a while, to do things that make your kids say they hate you, and even to fantasize about grabbing a backpack full of cash, leaving your cell phone in a glass of water next to your driver’s license and credit cards, and running away forever.

So go ahead and pour a glass or two or bottle of wine, fill the tub with bubbles, lock the door, and pretend you don’t hear them yelling your name. Give yourself a pass, escape, and reflect on how you aren’t really all that terrible while enjoying one of these books featuring moms behaving badly, because—as Entertainment Weekly said in its review of The Misfortune of Marion Palm—“Good [moms] may go to heaven, but the bad ones go everywhere.”

The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton

“If it’s shocking, it’s also refreshing.” —Lucinda Rosenfeld, author of Class

A wildly entertaining debut about a Brooklyn Heights wife and mother who has embezzled a small fortune from her children’s private school and makes a run for it, leaving behind her trust fund poet husband, his maybe-secret lover, her two daughters, and a school board who will do anything to find her.

Marion Palm prefers not to think of herself as a thief but rather “a woman who embezzles.” Over the years she has managed to steal $180,000 from her children’s private school, money that has paid for European vacations, a Sub-Zero refrigerator they had to have, and state-of-the-art exercise equipment gathering dust. When the school faces an audit, Marion pulls piles of rubber-banded cash from her basement and runs. Leaving her husband and two daughters to grapple with the consequences of her crime, and the mother-shaped hole in their home, Marion is on the lam, hiding in plain sight. Brilliantly skewering the mores of a status-obsessed society and perfectly capturing the spirit of bourgeois Brooklyn Heights, this wildly entertaining debut novel features a “bad mom” you can’t help but love.

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BridgetBridget Jones’s Baby by Helen Fielding

“Our favorite hapless heroine.” —Vogue

Bridget Jones, beloved Singleton and global phenomenon, is back—with a bump! This gloriously funny story tells us what happened between The Edge of Reason and Mad About the Boy, revealing how our heroine came to be a mum.

Before motherhood, before marriage, Bridget, with biological clock ticking very, very loudly, finds herself unexpectedly pregnant at the eleventh hour: a joyful time nonetheless dominated by a crucial and terribly awkward question—which of her ex-boyfriends is the father? Mark Darcy: honorable, decent, notable human rights lawyer? Or the incorrigible Daniel Cleaver: charming, witty, notorious ladies’ man? In this page-turning tale of baby-deadline panic, maternal bliss, and social, professional, technological, culinary, and childbirth chaos, Bridget navigates a pregnancy full of cheesy potatoes, outlandish advice from Smug Mothers, chaos at scans and childbirth classes, high jinks and romance.

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HeroesHeroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers

“A woman has absconded with her children, and we are on her side—even while realizing, at some level, that this is an uncomfortable place to be.” —Los Angeles Times

Josie and her children’s father have split up, she’s been sued by a former patient and lost her dental practice, and she’s grieving the death of a young man senselessly killed shortly after enlisting. When her ex asks to take the children to meet his new fiancée’s family, Josie makes a run for it to Alaska with her kids, Paul and Ana. At first their trip feels like a vacation: they see bears and bison, they eat hot dogs cooked on a bonfire, and they spend nights parked along icy cold rivers in dark forests. But as they drive in their rattling old RV, pushed north by the ubiquitous wildfires, Josie is chased by enemies both real and imagined, and past mistakes pursue her tiny family, even to the very edge of civilization. A captivating, often hilarious novel of family, loss, wilderness, and the curse of a violent America, Heroes of the Frontier is a powerful examination of our contemporary life and a rousing story of adventure.

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BadBad Mother by Ayelet Waldman

“Most of the mothers I know (the honest ones, the tired ones, the confused ones) will see themselves reflected in these wise pages and will find long-overdue comfort here.”  —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

In our mothers’ day there were good mothers, indifferent mothers, and occasionally, great mothers. Today we have only Bad Mothers: If you work, you’re neglectful; if you stay home, you’re smothering. If you discipline, you’re buying them a spot on the shrink’s couch; if you let them run wild, they will be into drugs by seventh grade. Is it any wonder so many women refer to themselves at one time or another as a “bad mother”?

Writing with remarkable candor, and dispensing much hilarious and helpful advice along the way—Is breast best? What should you do when your daughter dresses up as a “ho” for Halloween?—Ayelet Waldman says it’s time for women to get over it and get on with it in this wry, unflinchingly honest, and always insightful memoir on modern motherhood.

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