Most little girls are in love with their mothers – those impossibly elegant images of what we aspire to be. But as we grow older, we realize that our mothers are not just our mothers. They are strangers in familiar clothes. To me, this story suggests that our parents can only be interesting to us when we no longer see them as just parents; when we are no longer just their children.
I was in love with this story right from its first voluptuous, mysterious paragraph. Words like ‘kohl’, ‘mink’, and ‘rippled’ plunged me directly into these character’s dreams. I love to get delightfully lost in the story’s structure, its rhythms and breaks, in the contrast between the sensuality of the women’s world and the clinical violence of reality. Compare the relationship between the women: “A kohl eyed model, aloof in full-length fur that rippled to the ground in luxurious folds” with that of Sally’s husband: “Antiseptic smile. Teeth so perfect they might be false. Hands soft as baby mice fit everywhere.” I can almost feel his fingers slipping into my unwilling mouth.
I have read many stories about mother-love that have moved me, but none as much as Pia Ehrhardt’s “Baby Hater“. The rhythm of Pia’s words propelled me through sensory details that capture the essence of motherhood. Overwhelming love is “an ocean inside a balloon.” “A tiny fingernail scratching the tightly covered mattress,” is “less of a sound than one bristle of a brush on a snare drum” but to a mother becomes as loud as a scream in the night. Pia shows how motherhood fills you with love and fear and empties you of everything else – all the important things your brain was stuffed with, even your other worries, even your most ridiculous erotic fantasies, and ultimately even your child. From the mildly eyebrow-raising first line to the powerfully understated last one, this story touches all the tender parts.
I chose “The Lucky Children” as one of my Faves because I believe that the best literary fiction should make one think, question and be moved. This story of Beate Sigriddaughter’s certainly does all that. Brave and honest, it explores the shadows of rape and the protagonist’s reaction to it at that time and also now, in the moment of her recalling. She holds the guilt of not reporting the rape. By not saying anything, did she expose other women to this man’s attentions? But, as all good stories go, this one is not as black and white as I have just pictured it. This man is studying to be a doctor and with the future at her mind’s fingertips the protagonist knows that he has indeed become a doctor and not just a GP, but a pediatrician. Now the ethical waters of grey swirl the reader up with the facts that this man is saving lives and, most poignant of all, children’s lives. Does good rule out bad? Should she forgive him? If she ruined his career by exposing him, he would have not reached his full potential and therefore children’s lives may have been lost. There is the dilemma.
And if she forgives him his larger transgression can she then forgive herself of her lesser transgression? These are questions the reader must answer for himself/herself.
What I wrote to Beate was this: Wow, Beate. This is powerful and bravely written – the contrast between the guy knowing the woman did not want him but still took her, and the fact that he was going to do good things with his life. Does it atone? Is he sorry? It seemed to me he may have been. I don’t think he’s one of those dangerous types, not if he cares about children so much. To ruin his career and therefore those he may have saved – and children too – an ethical dilemma – but so poignant. Brilliantly written and superb ending too, Beate. Have faved. To forgive is not to condone, it helps us to heal. And the character does not have to forgive herself, she has done nothing wrong.
Fictionaut Faves, a series in which Fictionaut members recommend stories on the site, is edited by Marcelle Heath, a fiction writer, freelance editor, and assistant editor for Luna Park. She lives in Portland, Oregon.