May 13th, 2010

Rose-coloured reviews “The Cursing Mommy” by Ian Frazier

Now, you know I take The New Yorker as a direct letter from my chosen diety, and I do quite like the work on the magazine of Ian Frazier but I just can’t quite be happy with his recent string of Cursing Mommy columns.

These aren’t about wishing 7 years bad luck on a mother, but rather a mother who curses. These appear sporadically in the New Yorker’s humour column, Shouts and Murmurs. CM narrates an advice show in a similar manner to a cooking show–“Now I’ll just go over here and get the…” and Frazier’s columns are the transcripts. Cursing Mommy hates her “useless” husband, is usually fed up with her (rarely present) offspring, seems to live a nice middle-class life (has a fax machine, lots of liquor, no job and guests for dinner), and can barely see through her blinding rage. She is also frequently drunk.

I think you can see where I am going with this…

The most recent installment, from the April 26 issue, is Rx from the Cursing Mommy: Cursing Mommy discusses the situation of her infirm and widowed father, and how she struggles with all the nonsensical communications sent to her by the retirement home where he lives. She begins to offer some reasonable advice–staple together, label and file all communications–but then is undone by the fact that the stapler isn’t working.

CM has real issues, and she states them articulately (though not particularly humourously): her “betwixt and between generation [is] responsible for the health needs not only of ourselves and our usually oblivious spouses but of our children and our aging parents, too.” She gets no help with her father, though “at some point he became involved with a woman named Marjorie, who is quite a bit younger and larger than he is, and she has taken an apartment not far from the nursing home.”

That’s the scene, surely not unrelate-to-able–the US health-care system really is labyrinthine, and it’s even worse when you are negotiating it on behalf of someone else far away. From the personal RR files: My folks went through this with my grandparents, a continent away, so I do know that CM is right that it’s crazy-making (and yet my folks managed not to go crazy, or even curse that much, and they don’t even have a fax machine).

But CM does go crazy, and I felt fairly bad for her, and not at all amused. You tell me–funny or sad?

“And then [wham wham wham wham wham] the fucking staples STILL aren’t coming out! [Wham wham wham wham.] And now they’re coming out three at a fucking time! Oh, I so despise this shit! [Wham wham wham wham wham.] And the fucking Bush Administration, too—how I loathe them! [Wham wham wham wham wham wham wham.] Did it work? [Wham wham wham wham wham wham wham wham wham wham wham wham wham.] All right, I think it worked.”

I suppose part of my issue is that Frazier is a middle-aged man, and I feel like he doesn’t get to make fun of women struggling to stay sane. But of course, this would be as offensive as it is–or isn’t, depending on your viewpoint–if I wrote it or indeed if a stay-at-home-mom did (do we like the acronym SAHM? I find it hard to pronounce). But I also totally feel like, simply as humour, this is falling flat because it’s the wrong format–this is physical comedy and probably should be an actual TV show (SNL sketch, anyone?) and not prose. Visuals come at you faster, and if they are hilarious enough keep a girl from going all “is that anti-feminist? Is he saying women are so dumb they can’t even cope with staplers?

I would like to tie together my two theses: 1) this column is vaguely misogynistic and 2) this column is not all that funny, but I can’t seem to. I guess one thought along those lines is that though this particular column would still not do it for me even if it were written by a woman, I’ve read *much* funnier accounts of the SAHM life (I guess I can type it even if I can’t say it) that were written by the women who lived them. That actual on-ground point of view is missing here–it is very much mocking from outside rather than humourously commiserating from inside.

Maybe Shouts and Murmurs should stick to columns based on silly press-release copy–I like those.

2 Responses to “Rose-coloured reviews “The Cursing Mommy” by Ian Frazier”

  • Laura says:

    I think you need to lighten up. My friends and I all laughed until we cried when we read this. Yes, the mommy is pathetic and overly dramatic, but isn’t that good comedy? Come on girl!


  • Rebecca says:

    To each their own! I admit there is some PC squeamishness here: I am not a mom nor a victim of American healthcare, so I don’t feel great about laughing at those who are. But I have laughed at CM before–I liked the cooking one far better–really did feel that this one was weak (that staple thing went on forever!)


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