Mom Kills Kids and Self (Magill's Literary Annual 1980)
The most unbelievable stories can be rendered plausible and even terrifyingly real if told with attention to both detail and tone of voice. In a book of this type, less often is more. Many potentially fine novels have been ruined by melodramatic hystrionics which removed the events too much from everyday life to be convincing. Mom Kills Kids and Self succeeds to the extent that it does because it is so carefully ordinary, so meticulously unadorned, so relentlessly a tale of our neighbors, or even of ourselves.
Alan Saperstein took a situation directly out of the tabloid newspapers, adapting his title from the headlines we all see while standing in line at the supermarket or while waiting for a bus at the corner, and revealed it in a cool, matter-of-fact style, from the point of view of the husband and father of the “Mom” and “Kids.” Using a morbid situation as a springboard, Saperstein explores such themes as love, marriage, and family life in the United States during the latter decades of the twentieth century.
The narrator/protagonist is a successful, middle-class, educated white American man approaching middle age who comes home one day to find his children and their mother dead. He tells his story sincerely; there are no jarring shifts of tone or unconvincing expressions of emotion. Both his account of the story and his descriptions of his reactions to events are believable, for the most part, although some readers might protest that, however much the narrator might be in a state of shock, he would not delay revealing the crime he has discovered; how could he not call the police, or tell his mother when she calls?
This is a story of survival. It is the story of a woman who is no longer able to survive and of her husband who must somehow survive without her and without his children. He survives as best he can, by blocking out reality, by pretending the horror never occurred, by taking a swim in the backyard pool, and by not calling authorities to acknowledge what has happened. He survives by remembering the past and only gradually facing the horror of the murders and suicide. Fantasy conversations are presented as real because, for the narrator, they are real. During those first awful hours after his discovery, he consumes large amounts of bourbon, shatters the television set, and breaks one of his toes, but his mind will not shut off. It babbles on and on, blaming, grieving, assessing, remembering. Whatever passes through his brain is real; whatever he is aware of becomes the...
(The entire section is 1038 words.)
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