Book briefs

Essays on alterna-moms; a strong-armed memoir.


edited by Ariel Gore and Bee Lavender (Seal Press, $16) Cafe Solstice, 4116 University Way N.E., 634-3400; 7 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 2

BROKEN HOMES, unwed mothers, dysfunctional families . . . there are plenty of buzzwords used to describe nontraditional families, and they're mostly negative. It's a truism among politicians, talk show hosts, and sociologists that coming from a family that looks more like The Brady Bunch than Leave It to Beaver leads to very bad things. But it's time to wake up and smell the census: The model of Mommy, Daddy, Dick, and Jane living behind a white picket fence with Spot has changed. Blame feminism, Hollywood, the pill, or rock and roll, but the post-Cold War family is a post-nuclear family. You could argue—and many have—that the Cleavers really only existed for the supposedly shining moment called the '50s; that, throughout history, humans have doled out the tasks of homemaking and child rearing in all sorts of ways. But that hasn't prevented our "society" from setting up boundaries of expectations that denigrate those who fall outside of them—single mothers, pregnant teenagers, lesbian parents. It's these expectations that are boldly and, for the most part, cheerfully challenged by the writers in Breeder.

In this collection of essays—edited by Ariel Gore and Bee Lavender, the former teen moms behind the alternative parenting 'zine Hip Mama—women discuss everything from young mothers who strip to looking in a baby's butt for pinworms. It's a very quick read, but many of the stories will stick in your head. While some pieces are lighthearted—what to do when your kid starts masturbating in public or uses your vibrator as a teething device—most of the issues are tough, such as living in extreme poverty, becoming a mother at 16, losing a baby, watching your child fight for every breath in an incubator. These women take their most significant task head-on and are willing to call it what it is: breeding. They're not afraid to admit the most important thing they'll ever do is raise a child, even if they do break all the so-called rules. One wonders, however: Will they remember the benefits of rebellion when their own kids are teenagers?

Audrey Van Buskirk


by Bruno Maddox (Viking Press, $24.95)

IN MY LITTLE BLUE DRESS, a 100-year-old woman finds an inept yet endearing ghostwriter, Bruno Maddox (who is indeed named after the author), to pen her memoirs. Or is it that, in the unnamed centenarian, bumbling protagonist Maddox finds the perfect muse to draw out his screwed-up psyche? With this novel, former Spy magazine editor and first-time author Bruno Maddox crosses satire, biography, and coy, cunning confessional—and the result is a hilariously erroneous, yet dead-on, look at the 20th century and all its folly.

Maddox (the faux biographer, not the author) is an idiot. In attempting to write the old woman's story, he blows over world history like an ill-prepared sixth-grader who forgot to study for the essay portion of the test. Boiled down to pop-culture basics and blockbuster movie subject matter, the past 100 years become filler, a means to the end—the end being an old lady's deadline that the foolish Maddox is racing against all odds to meet. When he runs out of broad strokes, he stops painting the old woman's life and simply reports on his, and so begins the truly slapstick portion of the book. Maddox's life is a pretty messed-up affair; his fierce insecurities and complete social clumsiness would be pathetic if not filtered so hilariously through the old woman's verse. But, of course, it's not really her verse, it's his. Is all of this confusing? No, not at all. Coupled with the boldface-typed, Ferris Bueller-style straight-to-the-reader commentary that Maddox occasionally slips into, the juxtaposition works perfectly and borders on brilliance.

If there's a better poster child for the 20th century than a woman born at its turn, it's a lovelorn, historically illiterate fool whose naﶥt頡llows him to think that he can foil the world. But where the novel truly scores is in taking that truth one step further and completely shifting it, as Nabokov did with the dual narrators in Pale Fire. And while it's sometimes difficult to tell what's driving this novel—the satirized memoir or the off-the-cuff confessional, the kooky old lady or the foolishly sneaky biographer, the dog walker or the dog—the conundrum is fun as hell to follow.

Laura Learmonth

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