CATASTROPHIC HAPPINESS by Catherine Newman

CATASTROPHIC HAPPINESS

Finding Joy in Childhood's Messy Years
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A mother's angst-filled yet romanticized experience of her children's growth.

Near the beginning of her latest book, Real Simple “Modern Manners” columnist and parenting blogger Newman (Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family, 2005) notes how there are "things you thought would be fun with kids but secretly aren’t”—e.g., “making biscuits, watching the Peter Sellers Pink Panther movies, ice-skating”—and “how they all end up in tears and pooping." Unfortunately, the author frequently overwhelms readers with cooing worship of her young children, and her focus on and adoration of them seem to exist in a bubble in which the nuclear family rarely comes into contact with outsiders. (She has no inclination for mentioning her husband, who barely registers in the narrative.) Newman is clearly besotted with her daughter, but readers may become frustrated with such observations as, "her dark-lashed peach of a face the dearest thing I've ever had the good sense to notice.” The author’s voice is deliberate and soft, and the very short chapters catalog her insecurities and show that she makes little time for herself. Most scenes are interior, centered on meals and the children’s precocious conversations. Yet Newman is self-aware, and she admits she is filled with "dotty, nearly heartbroken devotion and, also, something like despair.” But there is no relatable or humorous counterweight to her "apocalyptic, death-and-mayhem catalog of possibilities that arrive[s] daily in the in-box of [her] brain.” Even as her children move into their preteen years, she continues to romantically pine for their early-childhood wonder. "I drive everybody crazy with my nostalgia and happiness,” she writes. “I am bittersweet personified."

An overly sentimental book. Child-free readers—and levelheaded parents in need of a break—should take a pass.

Pub Date: April 5th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-316-33750-2
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
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