The moms and dads in these books prove that we could be doing so much worse at this parenting thing.
Many classic novels have nothing to say about parents, who are often dead or off-stage. Jane Eyre is a great book, but it won’t make you feel better about yelling at your kids for shaving the cat. Thankfully, there are plenty of novels out there right now to remind us that, hey, we could be doing so much worse. Just take a look at the moms and dads in these popular reads.
Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple
Ever yell at your partner for forgetting to pick up your kid when it was actually your turn? If so, you’ll understand exactly the type of day Eleanor is having. The truth is, Eleanor hasn’t been adult-ing very well for a long time. In this delightful, funny read from Semple, a former writer on Arrested Development and author of the bestselling Where'd You Go Bernadette, you’ll see how badly things go when Eleanor decides that today is the day she’s finally going to get it all together.
To buy: $12, amazon.com.
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
Someday, we’ll be talking about Mrs. Richardson—the cruel mom at the heart of Celeste Ng’s current best-seller—like we do Cruella Deville. She’s manipulative and self-involved, but thinks she’s a devoted and compassionate parent. At the beginning of the book, the way she cares for her three teenagers in wealthy Shaker Heights, Ohio seems appealingly hands-off, but by the end of this page-turner, you’ll be thanking your lucky stars you don’t live down the street from this helicopter parent.
To buy: $15, amazon.com.
Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld
This updated retelling of Pride & Prejudice retains the infamously grasping Mrs. Bennet from the original, and adds in a more distracted, self-involved Mr. Bennet to boot. Instead of taking pride in her grown daughters’ accomplishments, Mrs. Bennet spends much of the book trying to get Jane and Liz, each more than 40 years old, married off. She’s dreadful enough to make the rest of us feel that we’re excelling as parents if we just manage to keep our mouths shut from time to time.
To buy: $11, amazon.com.
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
Lyra Belacqua is the heroine of this book, the first of the famous His Dark Materials trilogy, but her parents—her terrible, terrible parents—feature prominently as well. Her dad is contemptuous and condescending, while her mother is manipulative and, frankly, evil. They abandoned Lyra to be raised by academics, for heaven’s sake! You’ll be transported by the sheer beauty and imagination of this YA novel, but it will also remind you that a parent’s first job is simply to love their child. You’ve got that down.
To buy: $8, amazon.com.
Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub
Andrew, the disinterested dad in Straub’s novel set in gentrified Brooklyn, is a self-involved liar, who ends up joining a cult at least partly because the young women there are hot. Whatever you messed up recently, from forgetting to sign a permission slip to allowing an extra hour of screen time, it’ll feel like nothing compared to what this dude has done. He’s just one in a cast of characters that memorably explore familial love in modern times.
To buy: $12, amazon.com.