“My Evil Mother” by Margaret Atwood

Genre: General Fiction/Short StoryMy Evil Mother
Publisher: Amazon Original Stories
Pub. Date: April 1, 2022

If you are expecting to read a horror novel, this short story is not for you. There is nothing scary in this fun, light-hearted novella. That is unless you consider exploring the mother/daughter relationship frightening. Life is difficult enough for our unnamed fifteen-year-old narrator. In the 1950s, she and her single mother live alone in a middle-class suburban neighborhood. Not too many single moms back then so our protagonist might have felt out of place anyway. However, she is further teased in school because her mother acts oddly. The rumors are that her mom is a crazy person. At home, just between the two of them, her mother has always claimed that she is a witch with insights into the future. This is where all the fun comes in.

Since childhood, her mother has given her some peculiar advice, much of which is intrusive, and downright bizarre. As a four-year-old when she asked her mom a question, mom would reply, “go ask your father.” According to her mom, her dad is the garden gnome. There are many other hilarious exchanges between the mother and her resentful daughter, with the added twist that this mother may or may not be a witch. You will read of the customary mother-daughter squabbles about a boyfriend. However, the mother’s point in this story is not that the boy is unsuitable for the daughter. Rather, the mother informs her daughter that she must break up with the boy because if they continue together, he would die in a car accident, which she will be held responsible for. What a brilliant technique to break your teenager’s romance without having to worry about her sneaking off with him behind your back.

When the daughter is especially teenage challenging the mother threatens that she will “point,” at her. It seems this is how the father became a gnome. The author keeps us wondering whether the mom is insane or using unorthodox impressive parenting skills. As the years pass, our protagonist alternates between believing that her mother is performing witchcraft, or simply a quirky and troubled woman. Either way, this is a perfectly crafted short story about the lengths mothers will go to protect their daughters. Few authors could condense and catch the dynamics of the mother-daughter relationship into so few pages written in such an unusual manner. Margaret Atwood may be in her 80s but her writing skills are still as sharp as a sorceress’ knife. And, every bit as powerful as a witch’s brew.  

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Wunderland” by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Genre:         Historical FictionWonderland
Publisher:    Crown Publishing
Pub. Date:   April 23, 2019

Though I found “Wunderland” to be a letdown, this may be my own fault. The author, Jennifer Cody Epstein, has written for BCHBO, and The Wall Street Journal, among other prestigious journals.   Because of her credentials, maybe I was expecting something unusually good and/or different.  Or, possibly my disappointment may be because historical fiction is my favorite genre.  I may have simply read one too many WWII stories revolving around the Hitler Youth movement. Nevertheless, surprisingly, I did not feel the empathy and rage that I should have when the persecution of the German Jews began in this novel.

The story goes back and forth in time from 1933 to 1989.  In 1933, we are in Berlin and meet two preteen and then teenage female best friends.  In 1986, we are in the East Village and we meet the grown daughter of one of the Berlin friends who is estranged from her mother. The daughter has no idea who her father is and her mother is still mum on the subject.  There is some suspense as to her paternal parentage.  Could she be the daughter of a nameless Nazi?  Was her mom part of the breeding program wherein German women were impregnated to produce children of alleged Aryan purity?   Unfortunately, the writing is underwhelming, making the reader not invested in the question.  I do believe that Cody Epstein does a good job in catching the dynamics of female teenage friendships (competition for a boy’s interest) as well as mother/daughter relationships (always knowing how to push each other’s buttons).  But, this insight into relations is not enough to hold the reader’s interest long enough to care about the characters.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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