Monday, November 13, 2006

New Fiction Review

I just reviewed Melanie Lynne Hauser's Confessions of Super Mom at Blogcritics.

Confessions of Super Mom is the tale of Birdie, a divorcee who’s constantly belittled by her ex-husband and suffers from the common “can’t say no” syndrome. Her teenagers don’t respect her either until one day a horrible Swiffer accident gives her the power to zap anything clean in an instant, to sense when a child is in danger and to hear things no one else can hear. Somewhere along the way these special powers help her uncover the strength and the beauty she never knew she had, as well as single-handedly bring down an “evil empire” in true super-hero fashion.

The title suggests a June Cleaver-esque housewife driven to tranquilizer abuse and drinking wine in the afternoon for lack of an identity outside of “Swiffer Operator.” And this expectation is precisely what makes the story such a pleasant surprise. The book chronicles the tale of Birdie Lee, a divorced mother of two teenagers, one of whom find her the most embarrassing thing ever and the other who sums up what she “does” by saying, “Well what do you do Mom… you clean stuff, right? And you nag us…” . Then there's the ex-husband from hell.

It’s the sweet adventure of “just a mom” whose newly acquired super-powers help her discover how powerful she already was. Sharing her path of self-discovery, the reader can’t help but cheer for her. A reader might even discover her own inner Super Mom.

Be warned, the plot is a little silly if you’re measuring the book next to reality, but if you look at it for what it is — a feel-good comic book for grown-ups — it’s both charming and fun. The writing style is straightforward and beach-blanket easy-to-read, the language down-to-earth and conversational, and the first-person viewpoint works really well for this particular story.

The reader really gets to know the inner workings of Birdie Lee. But there’s also an array of supporting characters, all of whom are well developed. The “perfect” PTA mother is one such character. She’s the archetypical self-righteous, condescending mother who we’ve all (unfortunately) met, making statements like, “One must protect the children at all costs, mustn’t one?”

Through a wonderfully fantastical story, Hauser poignantly details the realities of divorce, mothering teenagers, friendship and how a mild-mannered middle-aged woman can learn to respect herself, to demand respect from those who love her and find romantic love again without giving up who she is.

Mothers everywhere will relate to Birdie, as she is the extreme example of how we can all lose ourselves to motherhood and then find ourselves again through a powerful jolt. Of course, rarely does the jolt involve an unfortunate mix of cleaning chemicals, but still…

Every mother understands the experience of becoming so wrapped up in her identity as “mom” that all else becomes little more than an unidentifiable sense of discontent, until she rediscovers that she’s a person with dreams too. Though few of us rediscover who we are by turning into human Swiffers (thankfully), Birdie’s journey is both entertaining and relevant to the motherhood experience. You don’t want to miss it.

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