Published by Simon & Schuster
Publication date: August 14th 2012
In case you’re not up on all the New York City realty news Park Slope is a much sought after neighborhood in Brooklyn. It is apparently also home to five unhappy, angry, put-upon parents trying desperately to figure out where their lives went so horribly wrong. Rebecca seems to have it all but finds her husband to be more interested in the kids than in her.
When they first met, she had been his project, the center of his world. She felt he had been waiting to love someone as much as he loved her…Once she had come first. Now, she came third.
Marco is a gay father whose husband works a lot and has arbitrarily decided they are going to adopt a second child, which is of concern as their first child is an unmanageable terror. Melora is a celebrity parent, meaning she adopted a child when it was the chic thing to do, but is really only concerned with her career, which she is trying to revive by being in a Broadway play. Karen went for the dream—married a lawyer, bought a three bedroom coop in Park Slope and had a baby with the expectation of more to follow. That is until her husband left her for a transgender female named Valentina. And Gottlieb is a wanna-be screenwriter who feels his wife has alienated from his two boys. Sound grim? It is. It’s also what’s known as satire and author Amy Sohn is gifted in the genre. Her prose is incisive and spot on as it echoes the flat affect of these people who, while keenly aware of their own emotions, have little or no interest in the feelings of those around them. In 341 pages some will self-implode but all will astound with their self-absorption.
Motherland follows the trials and tribulations of its five protagonists and throws in some ancillary characters like an old woman who steal strollers because “She was going to teach these women a lesson”, an artist who considers foreplay to be making a woman clean his bathroom (now, a man cleaning the bathroom would be something sexy), and a masseur with a fetish. While not sympathetic, these additions do illuminate the precision with which Sohn strips any artifice from her prose. Reading feels like watching a documentary except that as it progresses it turns into a Greek tragedy and loses all semblance of reality. And yet, the writing stays sharp and real. The emotions of loneliness, loss-of-identity, and isolation will resonate even when the actions each engenders may not.
As a satire Motherland is a resounding success. There will be clusters of people at crunchy environmentally correct cocktail parties in Park Slope dissecting these characters and decrying their narcissism and idiocy without ever realizing they’re the ones being written about. The problem for this reader is that while in the beginning I read the stories of Rebecca, Marco, and Melora with interest by midway through the book I was losing patience. And by the end, I didn’t care what happened to them. For me, this is not rewarding reading; especially as Sohn seemed to employ the go-big-or-go-home rule of writing in Motherland. The scenarios and sex became outlandish and added little to the novel. If you are a lover of pop cultural references and mocking said references than Motherland will delight you as Schadenfreude is the prevalent emotion left behind in this novel. If you need to have a modicum of understanding for the characters you’re reading about then this one won’t work. At best you’ll want them to go away but at worst you’ll want to slap them. Hard.