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Mother Land

Cover of Mother Land

Mother Land

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A richly detailed, darkly hilarious novel of a family held together and torn apart by its narcissistic matriarch
To those in her Cape Cod town, Mother is an exemplar of piety, frugality, and hard work. To her husband and seven children, she is the selfish, petty tyrant of Mother Land. She excels at playing her offspring against each other. Her favorite, Angela, died in childbirth; only Angela really understands her, she tells the others. The others include the officious lawyer, Fred; the uproarious professor, Floyd; a pair of inseparable sisters whose devotion to Mother has consumed their lives; and JP, the narrator, a successful writer whose work she disparages. As she lives well past the age of 100, her brood struggles with and among themselves to shed her viselike hold on them.

Mother Land is a piercing portrait of how a parent's narcissism impacts a family. While the particulars of this tale are unique, Theroux encapsulates with acute clarity and wisdom a circumstance that is familiar to legions of readers. And beyond offering the shock and comfort of recognition, Mother Land presents for everyone an engrossing, heartbreaking, and often funny saga of a vast family that bickers, colludes, connives, and ultimately overcomes the painful ties that bind them.

A richly detailed, darkly hilarious novel of a family held together and torn apart by its narcissistic matriarch
To those in her Cape Cod town, Mother is an exemplar of piety, frugality, and hard work. To her husband and seven children, she is the selfish, petty tyrant of Mother Land. She excels at playing her offspring against each other. Her favorite, Angela, died in childbirth; only Angela really understands her, she tells the others. The others include the officious lawyer, Fred; the uproarious professor, Floyd; a pair of inseparable sisters whose devotion to Mother has consumed their lives; and JP, the narrator, a successful writer whose work she disparages. As she lives well past the age of 100, her brood struggles with and among themselves to shed her viselike hold on them.

Mother Land is a piercing portrait of how a parent's narcissism impacts a family. While the particulars of this tale are unique, Theroux encapsulates with acute clarity and wisdom a circumstance that is familiar to legions of readers. And beyond offering the shock and comfort of recognition, Mother Land presents for everyone an engrossing, heartbreaking, and often funny saga of a vast family that bickers, colludes, connives, and ultimately overcomes the painful ties that bind them.

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Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 13, 2017
    The diminutive matriarch of a large Catholic family is the powerful center of Theroux’s engaging novel. Noted for including thinly disguised family and friends among the characters in his stories, Theroux creates an unsparing portrait of Mother, who has fostered malicious backbiting and animosity among her seven children. (The only “perfect” child was Angela, dead at birth, from whom Mother receives guidance in daily conversations.) The narrator, J.P. or Jay, is, like the author, the twice-divorced father of two sons with another son given up for adoption. A successful but financially struggling writer, he has tried to distance himself from his siblings, but the death of his elderly father has brought him back to what he calls Mother Land, the tyrannized clan on Cape Cod. Theroux’s gifts for narrative drive and using darkly humorous descriptive details propel the plot through decades of the fractious lives of middle-aged siblings ceaselessly engaged in insults and rivalry to gain their mother’s favor. Mother’s 90th birthday party is the hilarious essence of family dysfunction. One of the novel’s big surprises is an audacious ploy that revives an old scandal and mixes reality with fiction. The book includes text from a blistering review of a novel by the fictional Jay—which is in fact taken from a real-life review of Paul’s novel My Other Life by his brother Alexander Theroux. The effect is disorienting, if clever. As the pages turn, though, Theroux seems determined to describe every event during years of family discord, with the result that the novel is bloated with dramatic incident, and while each event provides a new spin on Mother’s outrageous manipulation, readers may want Jay to grow up and leave his toxic family long before the end.

  • Kirkus

    March 1, 2017
    A well-traveled writer contemplates the long, menacing shadow his mother has cast over his life.Jay, the narrator of this bile-infused family saga, is a little like Theroux (Deep South, 2015, etc.) himself, a late-middle-aged novelist and travel writer with Massachusetts roots. Jay is one of seven living children whose mother, as the story opens, has just been widowed. Every child has disappointed her in some regard, with the exception of a stillborn daughter: one is too fat, another married badly, another is a poor parent. Jay? He writes novels ("trash," mom says), is twice divorced, and shamed the family by getting a girl pregnant at 18. And, now living a 10-minute drive away, he's damned for either not visiting enough or upsetting her when he does arrive; siblings routinely call to chastise him for some misstep or other, and he suspects dear mother deliberately sabotaged a budding relationship. Is mom a monster, or is Jay projecting his own self-loathing upon her? Some of both, though the storytelling is too straightforward to suggest an unreliable narrator, and once Jay sneaks a peek at mom's finances he has genuine proof he's low on the pecking order. Theroux's writing is robust as ever, but this story is overly repetitive, filled with countless metaphorical comparisons of the family to uncivilized brutes ("a savage tribe that practiced endocannibalism, feeding on ourselves," goes one typical riff). And the dramas that surround mother as she ages past the century mark tend to be well-worn matters of money and property, along with slights real and perceived. That goes a long way toward suggesting that family life can be a death by a thousand cuts, but it makes for a long trek in a hefty novel. A sodden study of domestic resentment.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    December 1, 2016
    Though the New Yorker excerpts have helped fans along, this new novel is a long time coming. At its heart is Mother, regarded as a paragon of virtue by the residents of her Cape Cod town and as a monster by her children--including hapless narrator JP, a successful writer whose work Mother hates. A lesson in the damage parents can wreak; with a 50,000-copy first printing.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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