Binging on English-language fiction on the Kindle my mother gave me for my birthday, I come to myself one day to wonder if all the books on it are not, perchance, about disastrous family relationships. In the space of about a week I have read Dear Daughter: A Novel (Elizabeth Little- socialite accused of murdering her mother in a drunken frenzy, cannot recall if it is in fact true, but may well be so since they loathe each other), The Corrections (Jonathon Franzen, decent mid-Western couple fuck up their 3 children comprehensively by doing nothing much except caring what other people think), Everything I Never Told You (Celeste Ng, Chinese American girl driven to desperation by her parents’ wildly unrealistic expectations of her career path and their selection of her as a clear favourite), and This House of Grief (Helen Garner-true story about the trial of Robert Farquaharson who drove his 3 kids into the dam, got out of the car and left them there).
I am in the middle of Everything I never told you when Maja kicks me out of bed in the middle of the night because she wants Babcia. I can hardly even find it in me to be surprised- of course she knows that I am going to send her to pre-school and ruin her life, or prefer her brother and ruin her life, or prefer her and ruin her life. I am going to hover and force her to do piano lessons, or ignore her manifest talent for the piano and deprive her of a career as a concert pianist. I am going to make her into something she isn’t by forcing her to be whatever my idea of respectable is, or make her into a misfit by wilfully ignoring the overwhelming pinkiness of girlhood. I am going to give her too much junk food or not enough, like my parents did, thereby turning me into the rotten-toothed sugar whore I am today.
This house of grief, the finale in this feel-bad series of guides on how not to parent, is oddly consoling from this point of view. Here, at least, is a thing which most parents don’t do, which it is easy to avoid. Just don’t kill them, I advise myself, and they’re in with a fighting chance.