The Mother-In-Law Diaries

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The Mother-In-Law Diaries is Lulu Penfield’s letter to her son, responding to her new status as mother-in-law. She has had plenty of experience, but only from the other side of the relationship—as a five time daughter-in-law. To explain her uneasiness about her position, she recounts the history of her marriages.

Like the Wife of Bath, (who also had five husbands) Lulu has an uninhibited pleasure in sex, which accounted for her first two love affairs and also for the reckless way she ended them. As she herself points out, sex is a powder keg which can lead to disaster—including serial monogamy.

Bo was first, mother of Lulu’s high-school sweetheart, a woman of warmth and (despite her own troubled marriage) a spiritual mother to Lulu, teaching her about the arts and the art of living. When that romance shattered, Lulu married Ted, a college boyfriend, whose chilly mother was a storehouse of practical advice about check-book balancing, tuna casseroles, and, when Tristan arrived, infant care.

Then came Declan, a biologist, whose mother was literally a witch, although she never managed sorcery to shift Declan’s interest toward his wife and away from his brother. And then came Geoffrey, a New Zealander with unpredictable rages and a mysterious mother. Last was Dan, as distant as his long-dead mother. Now Lulu must use her experience to respond to her own daughter-in-law, and although she stumbles, readers know that her humor and insight are about to lead her right.