Dear Separation Anxiety audio book,
I’m writing this letter because I’m not sure I can review you. You see, my feelings about parents and children are too tangled up to be fair. Your author, Laura Zigman, start out with a fifty-year-old woman named Judy whose son is thirteen and not interested in being her baby anymore. Judy is married to Gary, whose chronic anxiety causes him to smoke lots of pot and keep a job most twenty-year-olds do because it’s low-key. Gary used to be a good musician, but he doesn’t play anymore. To make her feel comforted, Judy starts wearing the family dog in a baby sling she found in the basement. Like, not just in her house. She wears the dog in the baby sling to her son’s school assembly and coffee shops and even the dog park, where the other dog owners accuse her of torturing her pet. “Torture” is a pretty strong word, don’t you think? I mean, she’s preventing the dog from living a life natural to its species, but it’s not in a bamboo hut in Vietnam, am I right? Let’s not pretend John McCain and a fictional dog were both tortured.
Judy is a one-hit wonder children’s author, but after her book There’s a Bird on My Head was a hit and the PBS series based on the characters faded away, she hasn’t been able to score another success in publishing. I really did not appreciate the way you, Separation Anxiety, chose to make Judy purchase a spot for nearly $1,000 at a creativity retreat when her family is broke and then behave in such an awful fashion to the creativity retreat leader. Although Judy wants to be normal, for people to stop staring at her like there’s a bird on her head, she’s so focused on controlling Gary at the retreat (who was welcomed to join for free after their housing fell through and they are offered a spare bedroom in the retreat leader’s house) that she can’t produce anything after being given a prompt. Did she need to lash out by calling the retreat leader a phony and defacing the woman’s house before running off in the middle of the night? She’s so self-absorbed that it’s really aggravating.
But the part that really honked my hooter was the way Judy is emotionally pawing at her son, who is clearly asking her to back off, but she keeps at it instead of seeking out a therapist to talk about her emotional issues. She visits a marriage therapist because she and Gary are separated but they can’t afford two houses or divorce. Judy and Gary never take it seriously and always leave early. Why are they going? If they’re so broke, why pay for a therapist at all? Or Trader Joe’s. Or braces to try and seduce an orthodontist who used to be the boy she liked at school.
In 2020, this book should pay more attention to consent. Judy wants to rub Teddy’s back and caress his cheek, and he hates it. While she’s doing it, I know she feels love, but she creeps me out because her son so adamantly and obviously doesn’t want to be fondled by his mother. It’s not her that he likely hates her so much as in his teen life he’s think about sensual touch with another person his age, not his mom who thinks he was so much more precious at eleven and younger. She has no respect for the person her son is NOW. Here’s where I start getting ragey in my head. Any parent who tells me they miss when their child was a cuter age seems to have paper-shredded the memo that other people don’t exist to serve their emotional whims. People aren’t shoes to be swapped out for comfort or cuteness. We have to take each other as we are, which is hard because we’re always changing. Even Judy is changing, but she can’t appreciate that her son is, too. How many times did she have to say she misses her baby son while violating his boundaries?
Even though nearly every aspect of Judy drove me nuts — her controlling behavior, her whiny “what’s wrong with me??” pondering, her inability to seek help when it’s offered to her everywhere — I still wanted to see how this book ended. Yes, it’s too long. Yes, you have some parts that were completely unnecessary (A “secret pooper”? Really? What is this, an episode of Bob’s Burgers?). But the ending was so cheese ball and the absolute opposite of who your characters are, Separation Anxiety, that I rolled my eyes and dumped audio CDs back in the library drop box literally (yes, literally) a minute after I finished you.
And can I just say that while your audio book narrator, Courtney Patterson, has a good reading voice, she needs to know that actually whispering into the microphone when characters whisper is just not okay?
Melanie @ Grab the Lapels
p.s. I can’t believe you treated people with mental health issues like immature jerks, and you weren’t funny even a little bit — your blurbs lied about that.
p.p.s After I read an interview with your author, Laura Zigman, on NPR, I realized she basically fictionalized her own life. Hoo-boy.