Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters
160 pages, 6.00 x 9.00
Paperback | 9780268203023 | August 2022
Hardcover | 9780268203016 | August 2022
eBook (EPUB) | 9780268203009 | August 2022
eBook (Web PDF) | 9780268203030 | August 2022
In these dense and startling stories, Maya Sonenberg telescopes seasons, decades, and generations in candid depictions of women’s family lives.
What happens when the urge to ditch your family outpaces the desire to love them? The stories in Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters, winner of the Richard Sullivan Prize in Short Fiction, attempt to answer this question, heading straight for the messiness of domestic relationships and the constraints society places on women as they navigate their obligations. In the midst of their sometimes privileged, sometimes bohemian lives, daughters desert their rheumy-eyed elders in dusty museums, steal a mother’s favorite teacup, or consider throwing their dead parents’ nostalgia-riddled belongings out the window. Mothers conclude that they love one child more than their others. Fathers puzzle over a wife’s inability to balance family and career or accuse a partner of blaming their child for her own misdeeds. Women mourn the children they decided not to have and fret over the legacy they’ll leave the children they do have. But sometimes the generations reconcile or siblings manage to rescue each other. Love tears these people apart, but it mends them too.
The emotions expressed in these stories are combustible, both fraught and nuanced, uncontrollable and common, but above all often ignored or hushed because we’re not supposed to be bored by our children or annoyed with our aged parents, even as we love them. The careful shapes of these stories adapted from fairy tales, verse, letters, or newspaper announcements, the surprise of their wordplay, and the blaze of their lyrical sentences allow them to dig into and contain all those messy emotions at the same time. In these works, constraint creates both understanding and fire.
Maya Sonenberg is professor of English in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Washington. Her previous collections of short stories include Cartographies (winner of the Drue Heinz Prize for Literature) and Voices from the Blue Hotel. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Fairy Tale Review, Web Conjunctions, DIAGRAM, New Ohio Review, The Literarian, Hotel Amerika, and elsewhere.
“The luminous sentences that comprise Maya Sonenberg’s Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters house one surprise after another, never landing where the reader expects linguistically, narratologically, or existentially. They delineate quietly broken lives and unhurried regret in fictions that exist within beautiful clouds of ontological static.” —Lance Olsen, author of Skin Elegies
“Written with humor and spirit, this lively assembly of protean fictions takes us from castle to carwash via an anxious activist, a frazzled painter, a pickle maker, an exemplary whale, and the always illuminating chimpanzee.” —Rikki Ducornet, author of Trafik
“Maya Sonenberg’s witchy and yet touchingly vulnerable characters bring to mind the ‘bad’ mothers and daughters of Lispector, tinted with shades of the Brothers Grimm.“ —Barbara Browning, author of The Gift
"Maya Sonenberg’s contemporary tales are alive with the pulse of the mythic, and her fairy stories brim with all the light and longing of the everyday. These visions of mothers and daughters—broken, breaking, seeking, striving—stick in the mind even as they open the heart. What a powerful, gorgeous collection." —Jedediah Berry, author of Manual of Detection