Dystopia is very plausible at the School for Good Mothers

The debut of Jasmine Chan novel, The school for good mothers, is not a home guide for housekeeping. Nor is it the kind of joke that can make the arrangement look like an attractive alternative. And yet, as I read it over a snowy evening, I repeatedly left it to do homework, which is usually ignored until morning. The dishes shone. The pillows swelled. Every last sock matched his match. This book is a horror story, so powerful that it will fill even the most diligent parent with an itchy urge to panic, stand up, act like someone is watching.

Like The school for good mothers opens, single mother Frida Liu is suspended from full-time work while caring for her 18-month-old daughter Harriet. When Harriet was a newborn, Frieda’s husband left her for a much younger Pilates instructor. (His name is Gust. Like the wind.) Gust had persuaded Frieda to move to Philadelphia, where she has no family or support system. Now she feels stuck. In a moment of exhaustion, Frieda makes a reckless choice: she leaves Harriet for one afternoon, the little child left alone in a killer. As Frieda goes to get coffee to take home and answer emails in her office, Harriet cries so loudly that the neighbors hear. Authorities have been called. Frieda begs the Child Protection Services to return her daughter, but Gust and his beautiful Susanna receive poor Harriet. Frieda is under constant surveillance by a well-fed government team that seeks to uncover her parenting weaknesses. “Is that how you show up for work?” A policeman laughs at her careless toilet. Frieda is fucked because she doesn’t have enough friends to have a bad attitude. Her lawyer explained that the CPS had taken a new, highly aggressive approach. She is given the choice to either lose her daughter forever or spend a year in a state re-education camp for bad mothers. Desperate to reunite with Harriet, Frieda chooses school.

Located in a former liberal arts college, the school in question is a prison with an elegant fa├žade, a green room 101 with an open concept. Mothers are forced to chant “I’m a bad mother, but I’m learning to be good“They are arranged in groups according to the age and sex of their children and compared to sinisterly realistic robots. Children with artificial intelligence are equipped with cameras to record mothers while receiving parenting lessons. Instructors teach women what tone to use, how many seconds to hug their children. It is not enough to perform the tasks required of them; they have to do it while thinking the right thoughts and feeling the right feelings. “The data collected from the doll suggests significant amounts of anger and ingratitude,” Frieda learned during a goal-setting session. Androids for observation give the book its science fiction hook, but what they represent – the public expectation of mothers to be happy, damn it – is immediately recognizable, taken straight from today.

Racism and classicism are included in the program at Frieda’s school; most of the prisoners are black, poor or both. The second generation of Frieda, one of the few Asian Americans, has been consistently judged to be too Chinese (a psychologist is trying to get her to describe her parents as “restraining” because they were not as physically tender as American caregivers) and not enough Chinese. does not speak Mandarin fluently). She is accused of “false tenderness” while looking at her fake daughter’s crib. She is accused of having a “hostile” grip while training to cut food to cook family dinners. Cooking, the school insists, is one of the highest forms of love.

One of Chan’s boldest moves is to make Frieda’s judgment unstable enough to make you want to grab her shoulders and gently tell her to come together. Although she repeatedly tries to ignore the provocative incident as “a really bad day”, Frieda leaves her daughter for more than two and a half hours, a choice that threatens Harriet. You have the feeling that Frieda may not have been terribly overwhelmed with guilt if she had gotten away with it and returned home to a sullen but unharmed child. She may even have done it again. (Even after they found out, she remembers feeling a little shiver when she closed the door to leave her daughter.) At school, she pinches the hand of her child robot in a moment of anger and then falls right into a clear trap along the beginning. flirting with one of the men at a nearby school for bad fathers. She is not always the easiest person to sympathize with, which, of course, is important. Frieda’s shortcomings make us confront how easy it is to lift our noses at a mother who sometimes succumbs to her worst impulses, even if she is genuinely loving.

With the kind assistance of Simon and Schuster

And, oh, Frieda loves it. She loves so much that she hopes against the hope that she will get her daughter back. The school for good mothers is compared to that of Margaret Atwood The maid’s tale in advertising text on its cover. The comparison is pertinent, though enjoyable: both are grim thrillers for future worlds where women are forcibly separated from their children. A diabolical state plan to protect children by controlling women drives both conspiracies. Tonal, however, The school for good mothers it reminds me of Kazuo Ishiguro’s speculative fiction more than anything else. Like Ishiguro, Chan writes in measured, unassuming prose. And like Ishiguro, Chan has a fatalistic streak in his storytelling. “Frieda can be punched in the face because she hopes so,” Chan wrote. And yet she does it anyway. Where is he taking her? Just like the clones in Never let me go unable to escape their dark fate, but still spiritually irritated by it, Frieda endures her re-education, clinging to the idea that she will be able to escape from a system set against her and reunite with her lover. But the bar isn’t just for Frieda and her cohort, it’s slippery to make them fall.

In interviews for the novel, Chan cites 2013 New Yorker Rachel Aviv’s “Where’s Your Mother?” article as a source of inspiration. In it, Aviv follows a single mother named Niveen Ismail as she tries and fails to get her son back after losing custody after the only incident in which she leaves him alone. After the completion of Chan’s book, it is tempting to take comfort in the fact that this is a fictional tale, but Aviv’s article is a particularly disturbing accompanying part. This is proof that the circumstances portrayed by Chan may have some science fiction (the babies of robots filled with dirty blue slime), but this is a story mainly for this world, not for some distant future. Ishmael, who has been fighting for his son for years and who refuses to move away from his hometown even though his adoptive family receives a restraining order against her, is a loving mother who is punished less for one mistake and more for which she is an eccentric, an immigrant, a person who has, according to the forensic psychologist, “certain problematic personality traits.” The fact that she was not wearing a purse was on her file. She did the same when she offered her son too many toys. Although Aviv’s account of Ishmael’s ordeal is an uprooting, in-depth study of government overburdening and unnecessary family separation, it is not uncommon. Child protection agencies are already admitting that they have made a mistake on the side of overreaction. They now often require compulsory parenting lessons to maintain custody. They are already taking so many children. And so he calls The school for good mothers dystopia does not feel quite right. Almost anti-utopian, perhaps? A little speculative? This closeness to reality is what turns the emotional impact of the book into a complete knockout blow. A mother who reads it does not close the book, sighs and thinks: Thank God the world is not like that. No, she closes it and knows she has to be very careful.

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