Monday, April 4, 2022

The School for Good Mothers - by Jessamine Chan


Bringing together ideas from The Stepford Wives, The Handmaid's Tale, and the movie A.I. Jessamine Chan finds a new way to scare the bejesus out of all of us.

Frida Liu is a single mother trying to co-parent her toddler (Harriet) as best she can with her ex-husband (Gust) and his live-in girlfriend (Susanna). During the Labor Day weekend Frida is unable to console the eighteen-month-old who is suffering from an ear infection. Neither is able to get much sleep over the three days. Frida, at her wit's end, leaves the house, and her daughter unattended, for two hours. The police are called when the neighbors hear the baby's incessant crying. After several months of invasive monitoring, and limited supervised visits with her daughter, Frida is sent to a facility where she can be rehabilitated as a mother. The year-long stay involves learning to parent with a creepy robot surrogate for her daughter, on a defunct university campus.

Mentions of libraries are infrequent and tend to be nefarious in nature. Frida is told not to do research at the library prior to her court hearing, lest she be monitored; the former music and dance library on the prison campus is empty; one mother is being rehabilitated for having allowed her eight-year-old to walk home from the  local library alone (a four-block distance). Frida gets one 10-minute video visit with Harriet a week which take place in the former campus library. Even these become depressing events. On the rare occasions when Frida's phone privileges aren't rescinded and she is able to connect with Harriet, Gust and Susanna, the calls are fraught.

A truly chilling tale for the twenty-first century.

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