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In the meantime, enjoy this revealing Q&A with the author!
Read It Forward: Mother, Mother is written in the third person, but it’s told from the perspectives of two very different characters: a sixteen-year-old girl and a twelve year old boy. What made you decide to tell the story through the eyes of Josephine’s children? Was one character more difficult to write than the other? If so, why?
Koren Zailckas: I liked the dichotomy of splitting the story between Violet and Will because they have such different ideas about their mom. Will lives in awe of beautiful, high-achieving Josephine. And Violet hates her mom the way only a teenage girl can. Any shrink on the planet will tell you, it’s totally possible (and very common) for siblings to be raised by the exact same people and still have entirely different parents.
I suppose the cheap answer for the third-person voice would be to say, I was really sick of writing “I” after two memoirs. But really, I felt like I needed a little distance if I was going to tackle this subject.
On an emotional level, I found Will challenging to write because he’s so trapped and vulnerable. He’s homeschooled. He’s available to his mom’s every whim and he doesn’t have the luxury of setting boundaries. I worried if I climbed all the way inside him, I’d get stuck there in those feelings of helplessness. It was a relief to put a narrator between us. And it was a relief to have Violet.
I think the two of them, together, sort of represent a day in the life of anyone with childhood trauma issues. The primitive part of your brain (the Will half) feels confused and like your survival is constantly at risk, while the rest of it (the Violet half) has more intellectual understanding about why the people around you behaved the way they did.
At the risk of sounding as Woodstock as some of the people in Mother, Mother, I hope they give the book a nice yin and yang.
RIF: What do you envision Will and Violet’s futures to look like? Will they be able to overcome the damage that Josephine inflicted upon them? What about Douglas?
KZ: Violet will make it through. I think, deep down, she knows she deserves to be happy, successful and have love in her life. She doesn’t have to self-sabotage in order to appease her unappeasable mom (believe me, Josephine will be angry and miserable either way).
When I think of Violet these days, I hope she’ll have children of her own one day, that she won’t let her own mother put her off. For Violet, becoming a mother would probably be an emotional thing. It would definitely bring up bad memories, grief, feelings of extreme vulnerability and fear of repeating the cycle.
But Violet’s not her mother. She’s about a million times stronger, and she’s nurturing in a way that’s really natural and unobtrusive. I think that comes through in the way she relates to her brother.
Will, on the other hand . . . . I suspect Will might end up being an overachiever. He really could be hugely successful in business or the arts. He sort of has no choice in the matter. Josephine’s self-worth is dependent on it.
But I think there will come a point when Will has a life crisis and everything he’s accumulated will come tumbling down. It will be a kind of Tiger Woods/Lance Armstrong moment for him. He’s going to lose everything. Or a relationship is going to end very badly. He’ll probably realize in that moment that he has no idea who he is – that he’s lived robotically, he’s tried to gut himself of his humanity.
Maybe that will be the moment when Will seeks help. Or maybe he’ll opt, in Hurst fashion, to deny responsibility. I hope when he reaches that crossroads, he faces facts. It’ll be a tougher road, but worth it. And Will, for all his Stockholm Syndrome, is a good boy deep down.
I fear it might be a little too late for Douglas. It’s hard to say that because he desperately wants to save his family and do the right thing. But he’s a lot like Rose. His identity is so atrophied from all those years of self-neglect. He’s been an appendage to Jo for so long, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
What Douglas really wants is a quick fix. He wants to think he can take a pill, or improve his diet, or hit the gym and it will all be better. Douglas’ real addiction issue is this: he’s hooked on people like Josephine. In a relationship with a non-narcissist, he’d probably feel pretty fearful and empty. He’d have to confront this whistling void: his non-being, his aching absence of self.
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About the Author
KOREN ZAILCKAS is an internationally bestselling writer, and has contributed to The Guardian, U.S. News & World Report, Glamour, Jane, and Seventeen magazine. She currently lives with her family in the Catskills mountains of New York. Visit the author online at KorenZailckas.com