Letty Cottin Pogrebin

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 517

Motherhood is sacred. But only when it happens to married women.

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Children are precious. But only when they're born after the wedding. Mothers and children who fail to satisfy the above qualifications are somehow rendered less sacred and less precious. Society has a name for such unfortunate deviates from the American norm. We call them "unwed mothers" and "illegitimate children"—two categories which just happen to coincide with the Library of Congress catalog listings assigned to Norma Klein's novel. "Mom, the Wolf Man and Me." …

[If we were to steer] clear of a book bearing such socially tragic labels, [we] would miss meeting an extraordinary, dear, funny bunch of almost ordinary people: 11-year-old Brett, who worries that her mother will get married and turn normal; kooky, competent Mom—photographer, peace-marcher, iconoclast in blue jeans who treats her daughter as a full-fledged person; Grandma, who never quite comes to terms with her daughter's way of life; Grandpa, as enviable a father-figure as any girl could wish—a sensitive, compassionate psychoanalyst who keeps an imaginary alligator in his tub; Theo (whom Brett dubs The Wolf Man), a bearded bear of a man who teaches the mentally retarded, bakes bread and talks "in this very regular way, as though he didn't know you were a child and he wasn't"; and all the other friends with their very human problems familiar to children's lives though not often to their literature.

"They have to have been married" says a school friend struggling to comprehend Brett's status. "You couldn't have been born otherwise."

Confusing morality with sexuality has burdened our children with all sorts of misinformation (not to mention a stunted view of their erotic potential). But Brett has no trouble setting her friend straight. She's a matter-of-fact, unselfconscious child who refuses to consider herself pitiable. In truth, Brett feels kind of sorry for everyone else—for her friends who have regular parents, her neighbor whose divorced mother spends hours on make-up and men problems, or any child who must endure a set bedtime, an organized meal or a patronizing attitude….

Brett likes her life just as it is. And through her eye of perception, we share the tension of the novel: will Mom and Theo go the way of all flesh—from love to marriage to a baby carriage? Our conditioned reflex demands a happy ending. Our socialized expectation decrees that a happy ending means getting married. But in this daffy, daring novel the syllogism is no longer automatic—and so we care terribly about Brett's feelings and Mom's decision.

Adult readers (and there should be many) need this book for revivification and a glimpse of what they're calling alternate life styles. Our children need this book to bridge the credibility gap in their sex education. The Library of Congress needs a severe chastisement for their myopic system of classification. And Norma Klein deserves our thanks for a story that replaces moral labels with real human beings.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, "A Young Indian and a New Father: 'Mom, the Wolf Man and Me'," in The New York Times Book Review, September 24, 1972, p. 8.

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