As we celebrate our mothers today, and I reflect on my own, wonderfully supportive best friend/confidant/call-me-outer/prayer warrior/nurturer and foundation for my life, I checked out Publisher’s Weekly list of “The 10 Worst Mothers In Books.” The list includes Beth Jarrett from Ordinary People, and Queen Gertrude from Hamlet, but one mother who sticks out to me is Joan Crawford, from Christina Crawford’s Mommie Dearest.
I never read the book, but thanks to Faye Dunaway, I do not have any wire hangers in my closet. Once, when I was mad at my mom for not letting me do something that was important to my teenage self, I mockingly said to my mom, “I love you, Mommie Dearest.” I still remember the hurt in her eyes, and her quiet request to never, ever refer to her that way again. Joan Crawford as mother is legendary and iconic, but is she one of the worst mothers in books?
One mother who instantly comes to mind, and should be added to the list, is Rozelle Quinn, from Delores Phillips, The Darkest Child. Synopsis from B&N:
Rozelle Quinn is so fair-skinned that she can pass for white. Yet everyone in her small Georgia town knows. Rozelle’s ten children (by ten different daddies) are mostly light, too. They sleep on the floor in her drafty, rickety three-room shack and live in fear of her moods and temper. But they are all vital to her. They occupy the only world she rules and controls. They multiply her power in an otherwise cruel and uncaring universe.
Rozelle favors her light-skinned kids, but insists that they all love and obey her unquestioningly. Tangy Mae, thirteen, is her brightest but darkest-complected child. Tangy wants desperately to continue with her education. Shockingly, the highest court in the land has just ruled that Negroes may go to school with whites. Her mother, however, has other plans.
Rozelle wants her daughter to work, cleaning houses for whites, like she does, and accompany her to the “Farmhouse,” where Rozelle earns extra money bedding men. Tangy Mae, she’s decided, is of age.
This is the story from an era when life’s possibilities for an African-American were unimaginably different.
The Kirkus review of the book calls Rozelle, “a monster whose treatment of her children reads like a charge sheet.” I read the book last year, and quickly finished it as I read the horrors of Tangy Mae’s world, and her desire for the love of a woman incapable of anything but pain. Goodreads has a wonderful list of quotes from the book. One of my favorites:
She denied and feared God in the same breath. She allowed our actions to shame her, and yet was void of shame. I truly believed there was something unnatural about her – a madness only her children could see. My yearning was not to understand it, but to escape it.
Do you agree with PW’s list of the ten worst mothers in books? Who would you add to the list?