The first one took me along a darkened, twisty trail as girls became teenagers rebelling against their parents and wrestling with own personal demons, as teens became twentysomethings who still needed their own mothers, to women becoming mothers themselves (or wanna-be mothers) who struggled with their own rocky childhoods and tried not replicate them with their own children.
The second made me laugh (sometimes at myself) as it took a great big arrow and skewered the not-quite-grounded-in-reality lives of contemporary suburban parents, mothers specifically, who desperately attempt to camouflage their own insecurities about their bodies, their decisions to abandon their careers for at-home parentdom and whether their offspring have what it takes to one-up the kid next door who’s taking violin and calculus lessons as well as mastering French and Mandarin Chinese.
The third was just one big, absurd joke of an adventure that two suburban dads unintentionally embarked upon after a wildly intense dispute over an off-sides call during a pivotal moment during a 10-year-old girls’ soccer playoff game.
I’m speaking about three new books featuring parents, specifically Elissa Schappell’s Blueprints for Building Better Girls, Linda Erin Keenan’s Suburgatory: Twisted Tales from Darkest Suburbia and the novel co-written by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel, aptly entitled Lunatics. If you’re looking for touching albeit somewhat depressing insight into the lives of women and mothers, you should pick up Blueprints. However if you’re up for laughs at the expense of hyper-suburban parents, grab a copy of Suburgatory. Laughter at bizarre antics? Lunatics.
Of the three books, Schappell’s Blueprints is the one I can’t get out of my head. It has stuck with me. Eight, interrelated short stories deftly depict women’s journey from girls blossoming into adolescents, college students grappling with intense adult issues and mothers of grown children who still need their counsel. In one story, you see a troubled girl who battled anorexia while her mother felt guilty for not recognizing the symptoms sooner. In another story, her younger sister befriended a woman at a playground who also happened to appear in another story as a girl who dropped out of college after she was raped at a party. The most intriguing though, were the stories about Heather Chase who went from being a teenager who was trying to gain popularity through sex, then later put herself romantically between two best friends (it ended badly) and eventually wound up trying to give her own son a valuable lesson in love and trust despite her checkered past.
One hundred and eighty degrees in a different direction, tonally and otherwise, is the deeply sarcastic Suburgatory: Twisted Tales from Darkest Suburbia by Linda Erin Keenan, the title from which the ABC comedy took its inspiration and name. In the book, Keenan plays the role of the intrepid reporter and reveals odd anecdotes from the alien nation that is suburban parenthood. Many of Keenan’s edgy and sometimes profane articles are send-ups of situations or people she observed when Keenan, the former career-centric Manhattanite, was dragged by her husband to the ‘burbs after they had a child. A significant chunk of the book involves Keenan’s self-deprecating humor, mocking what has become of the formerly hard-charging CNN producer now that she’d gone native. It was a fun jaunt after the weightiness of Blueprints.
Lunatics, by contrast, is on an entirely different planet than the two other books. By humor columnist Dave Barry and Emmy-winning Saturday Night Live writer Alan Zweibel, this strange novel was inspired by Barry’s experience at his daughter’s soccer games and Zweibel’s experience with his son’s Little League. The two writers assumed the voices of the two main characters and alternated writing chapters in their characters’ voices. Zweibel wrote the part of Philip, a mild-mannered, married pet store owner and father who made a controversial call as a referee at a youth soccer game that changed the outcome of the playoffs. Barry gave voice to the other character, the hot-headed Jeffrey, who went into a rage after Philip called Jeffrey’s daughter off-sides after she made what would’ve been the tying goal in a playoff game.
Out of their unhealthy obsession with youth sports, the unlikely pair formed an involuntary team as their story hurtled from a suburban book club where the women had perhaps a bit too much vino (and barely talked about the book), to being on the run from police in Central Park, to assisting in a Cuban revolution and playing starring roles at presidential nominating conventions. While Lunatics can spark genuine laughter, especially at the beginning before it launched off into absurd locales, if you’re not comfortable with jokes about flatulence, bodily functions and crazy journeys, this might not be the read for you, although a soccer dad you know might thoroughly enjoy every part of it.