Your mother is the stuff of legend, most likely in a good, possibly even awesome, way. But there are some moms — like the ones living within the pages of the books cited below — who aren’t exactly vying for Mother of the Year. Whether they're avenging their child like Grendel’s mother or suffering from addiction or mental illness and incapable of proper parenting like Jeannette Walls’ mom in "The Glass Castle," there are some mothers who can’t help but hurt their children. As we honor our mothers this weekend, here’s a literary rogues’ gallery of bad mommies.
‘Bastard Out of Carolina’
By Dorothy Allison
I read this book 15 years ago and I’m still angry at the mom in Allison’s debut novel. Born to an unwed teenage mother, Bone is marked as “illegitimate” in her South Carolina town as her mother Anney goes from a tragic marriage to an abusive one. Anney’s marriage to Glen starts off promisingly, but goes south as his temper keeps costing him jobs. He turns his anger toward Bone, sexually molesting and beating her. Aware of the abuse, Anney proves too weak-willed to walk away, opting for her husband over protecting her daughter.
By Stephen King
Even with mad telekinetic skills, poor Carrie White never had a chance, thanks to her abusive fundamentalist nutbar of a mother. An awkward social outcast, Carrie is teased and bullied by her high school classmates and when she gets her period, the wheels come off and she unleashes latent telekinetic abilities on prom-goers and pretty much everyone else in her path, including her mother. You may be familiar with the movie adaptation, but King’s first published novel is sure to make you grateful for your mother, no matter her eccentricities.
By Christina Crawford
(Seven Springs Press)
You’ll never use a wire hanger again after reading this bestselling 1978 memoir by Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter. She may have been an Academy Award-winning actress, but “Mother” wasn’t a real winner on the home front, taking out her insecurities and latent anger on her adopted children. Christina is subjected to mind games, late-night bathroom floor scrubbings, boarding school, and beatings over those pesky wire hangers. A fascinating look behind the curtain of one of the world’s biggest stars and most horrid mothers.
By Natalie Robins and Steven M. Aronson
Like Joan Crawford, Barbara Baekeland was a hot mess. Married to the heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune, she moves in rarified social circles and the book suggests that she had an incestuous relationship with her son Tony, perhaps in a bid to “cure” him of his homosexual tendencies. Calling upon court documents, this nonfiction book probes the events that led up to Barbara’s murder and Tony’s subsequent arrest for the vicious crime.
More in books
‘Flowers in the Attic’
By VC Andrews
You get a two-fer of terrible in this camp classic: Not only are you introduced to a hideous mother but you get a twisted granny acting as the prison warden to the Dollanganger kids. When her husband dies in a car accident, Corrine takes her four kids to live with her parents. Since her father will disinherit her if he discovers the children, they are squirreled away in the attic of the family manse. As Corrine resumes her socialite life, her visits stop and their grandmother takes over their “care,” which entails verbal abuse, whippings, hot tar, and suspiciously powdered doughnuts.
‘Oh, The Glory of It All’
By Sean Wilsey
As a kid of privilege growing up in San Francisco’s fashionable circles, Wilsey had the sort of upbringing many of us dreamed about…at least, from the outside. In actuality, he was dealing with a mother who was a society columnist, popular hostess, and a bit unhinged (let’s not even get into his stepmonster). From imploring her son to join her in a double suicide to the hatching a plan to bring about world peace, Pat is the stuff of great fiction, but not exactly a poster mother. But while she might have been insufferable growing up, Wilsey is able to portray her with compassion.
Jennifer Worick is the author of more than 25 books (including the upcoming Things I Want to Punch in the Face) and a publishing consultant; she can be found at The Business of Books.
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